Actions

Work Header

Bea-ing a sister

Chapter Text

Despite everything that his demeanour would suggest, Allister was someone of habit. Sort of. He liked to do things his way and only his way so when he’d mumbled he’d be back at 8, what he really meant was he’d be back between 7.30 and 8.30.

Bea sighed, allowing herself the loss in composure for a moment. The glance up at the wall clock showed it to be nearly 9pm, clearly well past the 8pm ‘deadline’ Allister had given. It was already getting dark out, and Galar’s ‘daylight saving’ initiative was already working against her. She loved her brother dearly, even though they were not by blood, but she wished he would discipline himself a little more. A cosy nook in a graveyard here, or a comfy crevice in a shack there, his desire to simultaneously explore what he considered beautiful places while also concealing himself as much as possible from the living world did cause Bea a degree of concern. A degree of concern she wouldn’t readily admit.

‘As if the mask he always wears doesn’t conceal himself enough.’

 But, of course she wouldn’t say that to him either; he was anxious enough as it was, she reasoned.

The fighting gym leader arose from the cross legged position she’d taken on the floor, motioning her Hitmontop to do the same. Many sessions of meditation had honed her muscles to the point where the sudden contraction in standing didn’t bother her anymore, but she didn’t wish to get up any more because of it. Hitmontop merely shot her a look but complied all the same.

“Don’t give me that, you know we need to go and look for him.”

“Hit, hitmon!”

“Of course I’m worried. Big sister or not he should be back. It never turns out good when he goes off on his own on a whim.”

“Hitmon, hit hit…”

“I suspect the same.” Bea cast her eyes to the kitchen table where a bunch of flyers had been tossed. Some were already making their home in the fruit bowl apparently. Allister hadn’t cared where they went when he’d stomped up to his room the day before, mumbling and jittering something fierce. Walking over, Hitmontop shadowing her as best it could, she thumbed through them briefly.

“A grand spooky spectacle to behold, the gym leader Allister’s debut performance!” Brightly coloured pictures of Mimikyu and Allister’s mask adorned the fronts of them, far too garish for anything her brother would have liked.

“Hitmon?”

“Yes, what was Chairman Rose thinking? Allister hates flashy things and he knows that, so why have his first ever battle as gym leader be advertised as this…farce?” She let the flyer fall out of her grip, sweeping it under the table with a graceful kick. Bea was known across Galar for her not-quite-frowning, but not-quite-glaring complexion but this just pissed her off. Her frown became an outright glare as she made her way over to the outside door.

Her brother had been so excited for his acceptance into the Pokémon league as a dual-leader alongside herself, and yet the bigshots over in the administration had seen fit to plaster his face on a rainbow (albeit a purple tinted rainbow) holographic set of flyers. Everyone in town had gotten one and Bea would have bet Leon’s title that Allister was beyond embarrassed at how he’d been presented. Truth be told, he hadn’t wanted any fanfare at all, just the chance to show off his ghost types to some strong trainers.

Today had been his first battle, and it was at his own insistence that she not attend. She respected the decision, knowing the value of focus and distraction from a battle, but her heart still had pangs from the rejection. She wanted to be there for him, even if she was an ‘annoying overbearing nuisance’ most of the time.

“Are you coming? You know where he’ll be.” Hitmontop nudged the pokéball hanging at her waist and returned. “Fair enough. If things go south we have Pangoro to deal with any nonsense that comes our way.” The ball vibrated in response.

As Bea crossed the short dirt road connecting their house to the woods outside, she cast her mind back. Though they’d sparred and trained many times in the past, Allister and herself had only seriously battled once. When he’d had a meltdown at being bullied at school, he’d lashed out at her when his hiding place at the edge of the ‘new’ cemetery he thought she didn’t know about had been invaded. Of course she knew, it was her job to know. She’d defeated him easily, if only due to his reckless and unbalanced tactics, and the dark typing Pangoro afforded her team.

It was one of the only times she’d seen him without his mask, tears streaming down his face as the wind howled around them. It was also one of the only times he’d told her to her face that he loved her and was glad she was his sister. He’d apologised of course, and promised he wouldn’t be so uncontrolled again, and in return she’d showed up at the school unannounced to give a ‘special talk’ during assembly about the value of discipline and the strength of fighting types. Allister hadn’t been bothered again, the implication as Bea’s gaze met with the bullies was all too clear to them.

Having your sister being one of the most popular and strongest people in the region had them shitting enough bricks for Allister to build his own abandoned building to explore. While the memory did have Bea purse her lips into a thin smile as she made her way through the undergrowth the woods shoved at her, she hoped they weren’t in for a repeat of last time. The emotional drain on the both of them after that battle was something neither of them were good at dealing with.

There was a fine line between supressing your emotions and being calm, Bea had learned. She hadn’t quite gotten the balance yet even after all of her training. She wasn’t a fool and knew her way was definitely not the ‘right’ way or the only way…but she did just want her brother to come home safe.

A twig snapping beneath her foot brought Bea back to the present. Her feet were tough from her distinct lack of footwear at any given time, so it wasn’t pain that prompted her to bend down and inspect. The chilling breeze that had stirred up and shifted her headband slightly wasn’t to blame either. The branch was charred. There were several more like it on what passed for a path.

“Fire?” She murmured. Straightening up she narrowed her eyes and surveyed the foliage. It was as dense as she remembered from the last time she’d come by this way, about a week prior. None of the greens had burned away, that much was clear even in the fading light. The thick canopy above her was already blotting out most of it anyway and the air hung still. Bea might have been a trained martial artist but she couldn’t see in the dark. Neither could Allister, she reasoned, but she knew he liked it better that way. The soft glow of a ghost type was more than enough for him. So why was the branch burned?

“Campers? No, they stick to the camping parks.” Bea made her way forward cautiously, brushing away the occasional Joltik that tried to make itself at home on her shoulder. It was another few minutes before she reached the clearing, if the area before her could even qualify. Allister’s favorite graveyard had vines growing everywhere, clinging to the headstones as if trying to drag them under the ground to meet the coffins in person. The area was about the size of a football field, almost the size of her gym (‘their’ gym now, she corrected) and yet she could barely make out anything other than decay and lichen.

“Damn Galarian winter,” she muttered, starting forwards. The moss was nice under her toes but it was a small comfort considering the protruding rocks the unmown grass loved to hide. Treading carefully was the best course of action.

A shuffle and a curse about a hundred metres away confirmed her suspicions that Allister had retreated to his sanctuary; A small rocky outcrop where he could sit underneath out of the rain if needs be. Bea found herself thanking Zacian and Zamazenta that it wasn’t raining, this was already hard enough. She didn’t announce herself, certain Allister would try and run away if he thought he was far enough, instead trying to get as close as possible. In any case he seemed far too focused on his task to notice. Bea’s eyes momentarily widened, then narrowed considerably once she was close enough to make out what he was doing.

'He’s seriously trying to build himself a campfire. So that’s why the branches back there were charred. He doesn’t know how to do it properly but won’t give up. Idiot!'

“Come on light! Why won’t you light?!” Allister was desperately rubbing two sticks together back and forth in an attempt to get them to light. Alas, either they were too damp or he wasn’t going fast enough but the sticks stubbornly refused to do anything more than smoke.

Bea crept forward some more, now being able to hear her brother’s panicked mumblings.

'He loves the spooky and otherworldly, hell he lives for it, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys being scared senseless by things jumping out at him. He won’t admit it but he’s scared of the pitch black kind of dark, where there’s no light from even ghost Pokémon. Damned fool, there’s not just Joltik in the woods here he’d have a heart attack if a Galvantula decided to drop on him from above!'

“Allister, seriously?”

“AHHHHHH!!!” The ghost gym leader spun around and instinctively launched the branches in her direction. Bea ducked, having anticipated the reaction.

“You were really planning to stay outside and not come back? You weren’t going to tell me or anything?”

“Bea! I-I…” Allister cut himself off, instead electing to scramble to his feet and hide behind the other side of the rocky outcrop. “D-don’t look a-at me!”

Bea sighed for the third time that day. She kept her distance however, but not enough to allow him to escape to the other side of the woods.

“I’m not mad at you.”

“Liar! I know that t-tone, sis!” He stammered. “That’s the mad tone!”

“Alli, please…” She took a step forward but with just the two of them there he could hear her quite clearly.

“N-no! Please…please don’t…”

“…”

“…”

“…If I promise to not come any closer will you promise to not run away?”

“…Maybe.”

“Allister.”

“F-fine. I promise to stay…for a while.” She could hear him folding his arms as he was prone to do when upset. Whether it was with her or himself she didn’t know. Probably both.

Bea sat herself down at her brother’s sorry attempt at a campfire. A few dozen sticks caked in dirt and greenery were arranged in a tent like formation.

'No wonder they’re not lighting. Hmm…what’s this?'

A glint of purple caught her eye and Bea prized the sticks apart to find what Allister had been using for kindling. At the centre were several fiercely crumpled up pieces of paper. Bea’s face dropped, lips turning downwards and brow furrowing. She didn’t have to unfold them to know what they were but the act was cathartic in a way.

'Those damn flyers.'

“How did it go today?” She asked the air. The air sniffled in response. “It can’t have been that bad. You’re a great trai…”

“It was terrible,” her brother’s voice came. “My first ever gym b-battle and I b-blew it!”

“Did you lose?”

“We DREW!” More sniffles. “How…how does that even h-happen??”

“What DID happen then?” Bea grimaced, poking at the stick tent until the branches fell to the ground.

“Mimikyu…” Allister paused, trying to collect himself.  “Mimikyu and the guy’s Cinderace knocked each other out at the same time.”

“That’s rare.”

“You weren’t there!”

“You didn’t want me ther…”

“I-I know, I’m sorry! It’s j-just…” He sighed, one of those small sad sighs he did when conflicted. Despite the mask, Bea almost found it easier to tell his emotions when he was like this.

“I know.”

“You d-don’t!” Allister snapped. Despite her composure Bea still flinched. She wasn’t made of stone and it still hurt when her brother got like this. “It’s so much pressure! E-everyone l-loves you already and you’re s-so great at being a g-gym leader! I froze when we drew…I didn’t know what I was supposed to do…”

“…I’ll admit I don’t know for certain either,” Bea voiced, continuing to poke at the sticks for want of a better activity. “Like I said, that’s very rare that happens.”

“Yeah, you did say that…”

“So what happened then?”

“I froze, a-and said ‘Crumbs, better luck next time!’ and I just sort of patted the guys h-hand instead of shaking it! I patted him, sis! Like the way people do to a Yamper! W-what the heck is wrong with me?”

Bea supressed a smile. It was no laughing matter in the slightest but it was such an Allister thing to do. So awkward. As if echoing her thoughts he continued.

“It was the m-most awkward thing I’ve ever done! That’s saying something! I haven’t even taken Mimikyu out of its ball since then I’m so a-ashamed.”

That explains why he’s not using its spectral spheres, or any of his other Pokémon for light.

“It’s definitely in my top 5 most awkward m-moments.”

“It is. The icecream incident springs to mind.”

“I’d never s-seen a shiny Vanillite, alright?! I didn’t know it was sleeping in that bowl!”

“I remember.” One face full of Frostbreath later and Bea hadn’t seen Allister for the rest of the day.

Deciding enough time had passed, the fighting gym leader decided to venture around to the outcrop’s nether side, the pile of sticks yielding no further truths. When her crawling movements didn’t prompt a response she peered around. “Hey.”

“H-hey.” He still refused to meet her eye, preferring the comfort of the dirt and grass floor. His legs were pulled up to his body, hunched over, and arms linked together around them. His favorite way to lock up.

“I promise I’m not mad at you.”

“…”

“…”

“…Y-you promise?”

“Yeah.” Bea held out her pinky finger out to the younger boy, which he almost snatched up in his own. He still refused to look up at her but the contact was enough.

“Alright…I believe you sis. T-thanks.”

“It’s…fine.” Bea crawled around next to her brother, deciding to sit cross legged next to him and stare straight ahead into the now prevalent darkness. “Just breathe for me, okay?” Allister gave no verbal response, but Bea could hear his breathing slow, becoming rhythmic. They stayed just as they were, side by side and staring off into the night for another few minutes. Once the hyperventilating had stopped, Bea spoke out to the darkness.

“So talk me through this. You weren’t going to come home today?”

“Pretty much.” Allister brushed some of his midnight locks away from his mask.

“Why not?”

“I felt so angry and annoyed I knew I wouldn’t be able to face you. I’d have just snapped and gotten carried away, like I already kinda did.”

“Getting carried away doesn’t include planning to camp outside under a rock in a dangerous forest without letting me know?” It wasn’t an accusation and now that he was calmer Allister didn’t take it as such.

“Yeah, I really lost my head there. I just wanted to prove I could do something big I suppose.”

“This is big as things go.”

“Definitely.” They stayed in a more comfortable silence after the last exchange, though Allister clearly had more he wanted to say. Bea didn’t prompt him, knowing he’d speak at his own pace in time. “Everything…everything felt like it was going wrong. I just wanted to escape for a bit.”

“Too bad you picked the place you usually do.” Allister finally looked over at his sister, lips upturned in the ghost of a smile. He laughed dryly.

“I really didn’t do myself any favours, did I?”

“Not really. I don’t blame you though.”

“You don’t?” He cocked his head.

“Those flyers were pretty terrible, I figured they’d put you in a bad mood. Burning them seems about right.” Allister nodded, shuddering slightly.

“They’re so…happy and quirky. Not me at all. Neither of us has that kind of demeanour regardless of who has the gym so why did they…ugh.” He was right of course, neither of them were sunny people, not like Leon. Bea had the gym on week-days when Allister was in school, and he turned down the lights and added a purple filter on Fridays and weekends when he was free.

“Chairman Rose doesn’t have a clue.”

“I’m glad we’re in agreement on that. I look up to Leon was much as the next guy but I feel like he’s the only one the Chairman cares about! That and the weird new trainer in the purple raincoat…”

“His priorities are skewed,” Bea admitted. “He could have handled your debut better for sure, letting you design your own flyers and actually telling you all the rules you have to follow.”

“Hey…did you get to do your own flyers?”

“I got Nessa to do mine for me.” Bea could feel her brother’s eyes on her.

“Seriously? Why?”

“I was in my ‘I always have to be training mindset’ at the time. I’m glad I’m more rounded than that now.”

“For what it’s worth…I am too.” The two fell into another comfortable silence. The sky was the darkest of blues now, the stars just beginning to peak out from behind their cover. Allister knew that in there were Pokémon in Alola that apparently had something to do with the moon and stars. The same region Mimikyu was from.

 “Hey Bea?”

“Mhmm?”

“Thanks for coming to get me.” Bea allowed a proper smile to grace her features.

“No worries, bro. We’ve got to watch out for each other, right?”

“Y-yeah…it does always feel like I’m a stick up your backside though. We don’t always see eye to eye.”

“If we did then we wouldn’t be siblings.” She ruffled his hair slightly, causing him to giggle.

“I think…I think I can do without this for a minute or two.” Allister ducked his head slightly and allowed his mask to slip off. He turned to look at his sister, grinning awkwardly. “I know you like it when I do.”

“I do, but only when you feel comfortable. I know it’s hard for you.”

“I’m just glad you respect that. I feel the need to hide all the time and you don’t judge me for it.”

“I don’t wear shoes and track mud inside the Pokémon centre whenever we visit. Nurse Joy always gives me an earful.”

“Heh, she sure does.” Bea turned to Allister, allowing him to place his mask back on.

“No ones perfect, Alli, we’ve all got our quirks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Milo exercise his legs, Nessa is vain, Kabu is old fashioned…you get the idea.”

“Chairman Rose can’t make a decent flyer.” Bea felt the urge to supress the smile once more but let it slide.

“He really can’t, what a clown. Rainbows aren’t your thing, Alli, anyone with half a brain can see that.”

“Should we be w-worried someone with half a brain runs the league?”

“Probably, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.” She ruffled his hair again. "…Do you want to go back home, bro?”

“Yeah, sis. Thanks for being patient with me. I know it’s not easy on you.”

“Hey, we just have different personalities and things we like to do.” Bea stood, giving a hand up to Allister. “If no one clashed there’d be no fighting spirit!”

“In your own way you got it right. We need our differences to be us.”

“Glad we can agree on it.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…So which way is back to our house, Alli?”

“…That’s a really good question, Bea.” Bea raised an eyebrow but said nothing more. “I’m sure everything will work out. It usually does. When everything’s said and done we’ll still be siblings after all.”

“You’re not wrong, Alli, you’re not wrong at all.”

 

Chapter Text

Inner peace…I am one with my Pokémon…inner peace…inner pCREEEAAK…….inner peace…I am one with the ether…I am strong…I am focuCREEAAAAK

“Allister, if you’re going to sneak out of the house you could at least try to be quiet about it.”

Bea didn’t bother to raise her voice, or even to move from her meditation spot in the living room. Allister would always come to her. On cue, the faintest of rustlings could be heard and the masked face of her brother popped around the corner.

“Crumbs, Bea! How do you always know!”

“Because I’m your big sis and it’s my job to know.”

And because you try this at least once a week. Bea didn’t say that out loud though or he might try something more rash.

Jumping out of the upstairs window and having Gengar levitate him down was a tried a tested method; they’d both learned that the hard way. One gust of wind and a trip the emergency room later had Bea make Allister promise to never do it again. Of course, Bea trusted him to not, but better to not put more ideas in his head.

“Did you finish your homework?”

“…Mostly.”

“Allister.”

The boy hung his head slightly, slumping down the wall to her sitting level.

“I tried, a-alright? It’s so tough though! A r-right pain up my…” Bea opened her eyes and met his gaze even through his protection. He held up his hands in protest. “…backside. I was gonna say backside! Promise.”

“I believe you, also a promise.” Bea gave Allister a nod to make sure he she was being serious. He straightened up. “No exploring the cemetery until you’ve done all your homework, that’s the rule.”

“Y-yeah…I know. It’s maths though.”

“Ah.” Bea glanced up at the clock. 4:30pm. Plenty of time before the sun set. “I suppose that’s not too unusual, I was never any good at it either.”

“But you don’t have to be good at it anymore,” Allister emphasised, clearly sulking. “You’ve finished school now so you don’t need it!” Bea cocked her head slightly. He wasn’t wrong, but not right either. While it was true she’d been out of school for nearly a year now it wasn’t like basic maths wasn’t important.

“I still need to know it though,” she voiced. “Groceries, train times, how much HP my Pokémon has left and so on. It hasn’t just gone away because I’m not examined on it. It’s a good discipline to have.”

“But exams are hard! Yoooouuuu don’t have to sit down in a c-cramped exam hall full of s-strangers!”

“I did at one point. You’ll get there, I believe in you.”

Allister scuffed his trainers on the carpet, abashed.

“T-thanks. I guess.”

Bea patted the carpet next to her, beckoning him over.

“Sit with me, just for a while.” He raised his hand to object but Bea knew it was coming. “You can do it on the sofa if the floor’s too hard for you.” He lowered his hand back down.

“…Okay.” Allister shambled his way through the living room in his usual style, though purposefully ignoring the sofa and instead plopping himself down next to the still cross-legged fighting leader.

“Thank you.”

“S’okay I suppose.”

Good enough.

“Breathe for me…find your peace…find your inner peace…”

It took a few attempts but Allister’s normally shallow, somewhat rapid breathing became more subdued. He closed his eyes under his mask and inhaled as deep as he could

Things I like, right? Ghosts…I like ghost Pokémon a lot. The places they like are the places I do too. The cemetery, the abandoned hospital, that one hill with the gnarly tree…

Allister exhaled, peaking his eyes open slightly and stealing a glance at his sister. He could never be too careful and she always seemed to know when he was looking her way. Just an effect of her martial arts training, he supposed.

I could be wanderin’ through a nice dank forest right about now…enjoying all the things that make me happy. Bea does make me happy though. She really gets me, when…no one else does. She’s all I got now… ‘m glad she’s my sis.

“This is good, sis, thanks for letting me sit here a while.”

“You’re welcome all of the time, you know that.”

“Heh, I know.”

Bea opened her eyes, looking down to where Allister had parked himself.

“Though you did break the silence by speaking.”

“A-ah…oh…m’ bad”

“It’s alright, Alli, while we’re talking we might as well talk about school. Have you applied for those special circumstances yet?”

He shifted slightly.

“I have…dunno whether I’ll get them though.”

“I’m confident you will. A separate room for tests and exams will be great for you and the school knows that. It’ll really help you excel. I mean, they already let you wear your mask so they definitely take what you need into account.”

Allister grabbed at said mask on reflex. He had over 30 of them, all around the house just in case he lost this one. A couple stashed in his school bag, and one in his locker for good measure, if ever there’d be an incident he’d always be prepared. This one was his favourite he couldn’t lie, even though they all looked pretty much the same. This was his first one so that made it the best, at least in his own mind.

“You’re right, I just like to worry I guess…you know me.” She patted his head lightly.

“I do.” They stayed as they were for another few minutes, each listening to the rhythm of the other’s breaths. “I probably can’t help you with the maths, but I can get you someone who can.”

“S-someone else? Like a…stranger?” Bea shook her head.

“Milo. He’s good with numbers and all of that type of thing.” Allister furrowed his brow, reaching under his mask to scratch an itch.

“Like the gym leader Milo?”

“One and the same.”

“B-but…really? Him?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well he s-seems…I dunno…carefree I guess? Big and tough too, didn’t peg him for a big thinker, just big muscles.” Bea shook her head.

“We don’t judge based on appearances, Alli.” He shied away from her in response.

“R-right, sorry. I mean l-look at me! Hah…”

“And myself as well, don’t forget. I might be ‘big and tough’ as well,” she said, miming the air quotes with her fingers. “But I like sweets a lot too despite my apparent discipline. Don’t go spreading that around though.”

“I wouldn’t, you know that…”

“I know, it was more a reassurance to myself. Anyway, Milo is a very strong person, but being a farmer takes more than just heaving haybales.”

“It does?” He shuffled back, now more eager to listen.

“Sure it does, you’ve got to be able to calculate prices for fertilisers, things on the market, exchange values and taxes, a whole lot of maths related things. Milo will take over from his parents one day and I know he’s up to the task.”

“…Whoa…sounds hard.”

“Hard but worth it,” she corrected. “I can give him a call and he’ll probably come if he’s free.”

“I…umm…I don’t know…” Allister pondered, crossing his arms under his chin. “I don’t know him all that well. We’ve only met a handful of times, and then when I properly became a gym leader.”

“This will be good practice, trust me. He might be a little boisterous but he’s very easy to get along with. If anyone’s going to get you on the right track in maths it’s him.”

“Well…”

“Alli, trust me.” Allister turned his head and met her gaze. A shared understanding passed through the two, Bea’s unwavering eyes meeting Allister’s hidden stare.

“…Alright. I trust you. ‘can call him.”

“Thank you for trusting me. I’ll give him a ring.” Bea stood up so Allister followed. “I left my phone on the table.” Allister was glad his mask could hide his smile. His sister might be the most stoic person he knew of but she was pretty poor when it came to technology. “I hope I didn’t delete the number, that’d be embarrassing.” Allister raised an eyebrow.

“Then you’d have to help me yourself.” She turned, raising one of her own back in response.

“Then we’d both fail. Oh, it’s ringing…” Bea held up the Rotom phone to her ear, so Allister shuffled himself into their kitchen and took a look in the fridge. So many vegetables!

“We’re out of milk,” he murmured. “ ‘need cereal to feel awake in the mornings.” Allister sat himself down at the kitchen table, pencil case and bag already there where he’d dumped them earlier. “Stupid maths…why can’t you just make sense?” The numbers were already running off of the page and spilling down to the laminate below. Allister scrunched his hair in frustration; staring at it just made his head worse. Bea popped her head into the room, now off of the phone.

“He’ll be over in 10, did you say we’re out of milk?” Allister jumped slightly.

“Geez, does nothing get by you, sis? You’ve got crazy good ears!”

“Uh-huh, good for hearing you creaking down the stairs too.”

“Aww, c’mon all of the house is creaky…”

“…True. Will you be alright by yourself for a couple of minutes while I run to the shops? I know you like your morning cereal.”

“I’ll be fine, sis. I promise not to bail either.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Bea let out a rare smile, slinging her satchel over her shoulder. “I shouldn’t be too long but if Milo turns up just let him in. 10 minutes max.”

“…you sure?”

“I’m sure, I trust him and so can you.” As she grabbed her keys and made for the door she called back to her brother. “Just don’t let him get distracted, I know what he’s like.”

“Huh?” The door clicked and she was already gone. “…Sure, I can focus, right?”


“They can’t seriously be out of milk, can they?” Bea looked up and down the aisle. Sure there was lots of different kinds of milk but Allister only liked one specific type. She’d tried to pour some a different, but equally nutritious variety, into an old cartoon in the past but he hadn’t fallen for it. Getting him to try new things was a chore in and of itself. Bea sighed, she wished her own tastebuds would be as sensitive as that. It all tasted pretty much the same to her.

“I’ll just have to find someone who works here. Maybe there’ll be some extra in a back room?” She turned to go but felt a tug at her shirt.  A young boy with dirty blonde hair, wide eyes, and a Pokémon that resembled a…weasel with a life preserver? He couldn’t be any older than Allister was.

“Hey lady, you haven’t got any shoes!” Bea raised an eyebrow. That definitely wasn’t a Galarian accent, and neither was the Pokémon. Besides, most everyone in Galar knew she didn’t wear shoes.

“Well noticed. Can I help you with something, young man?”

I feel old just saying that, I’m not even 20 yet. I sound almost like professor Magnolia…or Opal if she’s feeling polite.

“Nah I was just curious if you get cold or not.”

“Not so much.” Bea took a look around; apart from her and the boy (and the orange weasel Pokémon) there wasn’t anybody about. “Where are you parents?” He shrugged, clearly unconcerned.

“They’re about. Probably looking at boring things like napkins. You seem way more cool than that!” Bea had to supress a smile at that. Children were so earnest. No filters. “You see it’s just as cold in Sinnoh as here but I like to wrap up warm! You look ready to go out to the beach or something!”

“I think Nessa has that look down better than I do.”

“Ness-a? She a friend of yours?” The name was foreign in his mouth but he managed to get it out. Again, Bea was impressed by his dedication. She crouched down to his height, waving to the Pokémon that was sniffing at the air around her.

“She is, and a gym leader too. Sinnoh has gym leaders don’t they? I know the Alola region doesn’t.” He nodded vigorously, his eyes shining.

“Wooooow, you’re friends with a gym leader? You must be pretty strong then. Don’t you think so, Buizel?”

“Bui, bui!”

“Buizel agrees!”

“He’s right to agree, I won’t boast about my strength but I’m a gym leader here too. My fighting types and I have won and lost our fair share of battles.” If it was possible the boy’s eyes got even wider.

“No wayyyyyy?! You’re like Maylene then!” Bea allowed herself a chuckle, the enthusiasm from someone with so much energy was infectious.

“Is she a gym leader back home?”

“She is, she’s a fighting type leader who walks around barefoot too!” He looked her up and down, and then up once more for good measure. Bea likened him to a bobbing Ducklett. “I think you might be even stronger than her though you’ve got super muscles, lady!”

“Thank you, young man, that’s very kind of you to say.”

“She walks all the way to Snowpoint City and back in the snow, she’s really tough, crazy my mom and dad say!”

“She walks through the snow barefoot?” Bea stashed that information in the back of her mind for later. She’d never considered doing that level of extreme, though it would certainly be a good test of her willpower.

“Yeah, to train and visit the gym leader there! Mum and Dad told me they have ‘something going’ but wouldn’t tell me what that means. Guess privacy is privacy though!” Bea nodded.

“It’s right not to pry into people’s business. I should like to visit this Snowpoint city for myself and meet Maylene. She seems like a strong opponent to train with.” The boy was nearly giddy with excitement at the prospect apparently, the Buizel’s tails had began to twirl around too as if to encourage him.

“That. Would. Be. Awesome!!!!”

“I’m sure it would be ‘awesome’. Your Pokémon seems to think so too,” she pondered, reaching her hand out to it. It gave another quick sniff before licking it.

“Aww he likes you! She’s my dad’s really, he says I need to train harder before I can have one of my own…” The boy seemed a little downcast at this, and Bea’s quest for milk was getting pushed further and further out of her mind.

“Don’t worry, you seem capable enough to me. Buizel likes you.”

“Ahahahaha, it’s Bw-ee-zel, not Boo-ee-zel! Don’t you have them here? Oh and thanks for saying I’m strong, if a gym leader thinks I’ve got what it takes I can’t fail! He’ll be a Floatzel in no time!” Bea shook her head, the boundless enthusiasm catching up to her, keeping one eye out for either the boy’s parents or a shop clerk.

“We don’t have any here, no.” She stopped, an idea popping into her head. “Hey I don’t suppose you have any ghost Pokémon with you do you? My brother really likes them.”

“Your brother must be brave, they’re scary!” The boy patted his pockets and turned them inside out. “I haven’t got any other Pokémon. My parents say ghosts are for more experienced trainers, but maybe they have some you could look at?”

“That sounds like a plan, why don’t we go and look for them? If you tell them you made friends with a gym leader I bet they’ll be impressed with you.” The wide eyes were back, and so was Bea’s grin.

“Wow being friends with a gym leader! I didn’t think that could happen. Like, only in movies or something!” They set off, Bea keeping her eyes peeled for any wayward employees.

Seriously, are the employees ghost Pokémon too? They always vanish when I need something.

…I bet they’d be willing to trade something with you too.” Now that caught Bea’s attention.

“Oh, really?”

“Sure, mom and dad were both trainers ages ago, that’s how they met. They do old people things now like mow the lawn and read books. Weird to think of them younger I don’t really get it.”

Bea could relate. Her parents were never anything but strict and one track, it was near impossible for her to imagine them doing…anything in the their younger years. Hence, while they were on civil, good terms even, she’d moved out as soon as she was old enough and taken Allister along with her. Zacian knows that their style of ‘teaching’ would be more like to make him burst into tears than actually make him any stronger.

“We’ve got some Pokémon in Galar you don’t get anywhere else, I’m sure I could find something they like.” As they walked along, the boy looked up at her in what could only be described as adoration (Buizel wagging its tails close behind).

“Lady, you’re just about the coolest person ever. Like seriously!”

“Again that’s very kind of you. I’m just like everyone else though, trust me.”

“Ah you’re being that thing that my parents say…what’s the word?”

“Modest?”

“That’s it! You’re modest too. My parents say that’s the mark of a good trainer and person.”

“Your parents…seem like good people.”

“They’re great! What do I call you anyway?” The boy asked, grinning ear to ear. “Can’t just keep calling you ‘Lady’, right?”

“You may call me Bea.”

“Like a Combee?”

“…Sure, why not?”


“Seriously, what’s taking Bea so long?” Allister was an anxious person by nature, so even though he took his sister’s word when she said she wouldn’t be too long he was beginning to worry. The 10 minutes were nearly up and Milo was going to be here any…

“Hey, hey, anyone home?”

“…Second. Oh no.” A couple of booming knocks at the door sent Allister into a panic. He looked around wildly, recognising the enthusiasm of Tuffield’s resident gym leader anywhere. He had to get out of here, to escape, to…

A flash of light and Mimikyu was next to him, having released itself from its Pokéball.

“Mimi-miky!”

“Mimikyu? Why’re you…?”

“Kyu, Mimi-kyu!” The black tail-like appendage from under the rag grasped Allister’s hand, holding him in place, rubbing it slightly.

“…” Mimikyu continued for a few seconds before releasing him. Allister heaved a sigh, patting the top of the disguise lightly.

“You’re right, running away won’t help me. I did promise I wouldn’t after all. Thanks for stopping me.”

“Mimik-kyuyu.”

“You can stay out if you want, Milo won’t mind probably.”

As Mimikyu took his hand again and led him towards the door Allister found himself eternally grateful Bea had insisted on getting him what she called a ‘support Pokémon’. Though ghost types were generally unsuited for the task, his naturally high affinity for them made it an easy choice.

Mimikyu particularly made a good partner and he felt they really resonated. He checked off on his fingers their similarities. Both wore disguises because of their anxiety at who they were, both wanted to be loved and supported but didn’t really know how to go about it…Allister stopped himself there before he tipped himself over the edge to becoming sad. The point was him and Mimikyu shared a bond, and for that he was thankful.

Oh…the door is open now. How long has it been open?

“Hey there, little man! For a moment there I thought no one was home!”

Milo towered over the slight form of Allister, again thankful his mask protected him from having to look the grass leader face to face. Milo instinctively thrust his hand out for a handshake but retracted it almost immediately, as if remembering something.

“Ah I remember, not too big on physical contact!” He put his hands behind his head, smiling wide. “Just tell me if I get too close in the old personal space area, I’m a pretty hand’s on guy so just let me know.”

“M’kay…you can come in.”

“Fantastic!” Milo strode in, placing his hat on the side table. “Been a while since I’ve been here, is Bea in?”

“Nah, she said to let you in though. Went out for milk.” At that he raised a finger to his lips.

“Aww shucks, I should’ve brought some with me! Wooloo milk is top grade.”

“Wooloo make milk?”

“They sure do, not just good for wool let me tell you. Finest quality milk you’ll ever have and it keeps forever too.” He placed his hands on his hips, looking over the photos that were hanging on the walls.

“I…” Allister bit his tongue. He wasn’t going to just straight up tell Milo he only drank Gogoat milk. It’d be an awful blow to his confidence, he reasoned, even if he always acted peppy. His entire livelihood was Wooloo related pretty much. “I respect that.” He shuffled around Milo’s body, gesturing to follow. “Kitchen’s…this way.”

“Oh? Oh!” Milo tore his gaze away from Allister’s League induction photoshoot (Bea’s insistence they hang his achievements where people could see them) and followed. “You do your homework in the kitchen? Smart guy. If you ever get hungry you’re already here!”

“Heh, pretty much!” Compliments, no matter how dumb, always cheered Allister up. Milo had already made himself at home on the other chair, creaking beneath the unfamiliar weight slightly. “It’s got fractions…hope y-you’re ready.” If Milo was perturbed in anyway he didn’t show it, grin still plastered all over his face.

“Great, love a good fraction, they’re pretty top! Or are they bottom?”

“…”

“Because fractions have top and bottom parts, get it?” Milo sat on his hands, prompting another creak from the chair. “I need to work on my delivery.”

“Maybe, I’d say tell it to my sister but…she probably wouldn’t laugh either.”

“That’s true, legend has it she smiled once, can you believe?” At the second blank response he’d gotten, Milo quickly back pedalled. “Not that I haven’t seen her happy I mean, that’s plain as day to see whenever she wins a battle or meets with friends. Or with you, that makes her happy as well! Anyway, let’s take a look at these so called fractions we got here!”

That’s embarrassing, but wholesome. That’s pretty much Milo in a nutshell isn’t it? Allister looked around as Milo pored over his notes and homework sheet, not seeing Mimikyu anywhere. Allister supressed his panic and instead breathed like he’d learned, and focused himself. He felt his hair spike quiver slightly and projected; calling out to Mimikyu in his mind he found it under the coffee table in the living room. No you can stay there it’s fine, just wanted to make sure you were safe is all. I worry. Allister zoned back in, it having come to his attention that Milo was holding his book upside down.

“…Um…” He tried to reach out, unsuccessfully, to correct him but his confidence faded. Milo took note though, shooting him another smile.

“Don’t worry I know what I’m doing. With fractions though I always liked a new perspective!”

“Perspective?”

“Yeah, reverse the numbers and have the top one on the bottom and bottom on top. Really shakes things up if you ask me.”

“Well…Bea did ask you…so that’s good enough for me!” Milo burst out laughing at that, and Allister was taken aback slightly. Was it really that funny?

“I should be taking notes from you, Allister! My jokes would land far better if I paid more attention to you.”

“Oh…errr…thanks?”

“Welcome, little man!” Milo slapped the book back on the table, then put his hand up to his mouth after noting the flinch. “Ah sorry, no loud noises either! I should be speaking quieter too then?”

“…A little…if it’s alright?”

“Say no more, I’ll be quiet enough to make a Hatterene jealous,” he said, doing his best to whisper. It was…decently effective, Allister decided. He was really trying and that was nice. He didn’t have to come out to Stow-on-Side at all but he did anyway.

“Thanks.”

“I bet you’re wondering what I think of your fractions right?” Allister gave a silent nod. “No idea! Isn’t that great?”

“…I…what?”

“These sorts of fractions aren’t for me, but don’t worry we’re going to change that.”

“…I’m lost. Can you do them or can’t you?” Milo beckoned him over, shrugging his shoulders.

“I can and can’t, but more importantly I can’t do them for you, you won’t learn anything that way. Besides, Bea would be on my case if I did.”

“…I’m more lost.” Allister sat down all the same, careful to hold his mask in place as he did so. Milo puckered his mouth as he considered his words.

“The way you’re taught, I’m going to be honest, isn’t all that helpful. Especially not for you I don’t think. It’s too abstract and not ‘here’, if you get me? We need something more in based in the real world.”

“…”

“I’ll show you, hold on.” Milo stuck his tongue out at an angle as he tried to find a working pen in Allister’s pencil case. It took him a few goes but he was blessed with success in the form of a purple ink pen. “Neat colour!”

“…Thanks…again.” Milo began to draw what looked like clouds. Allister craned his neck to see from the opposite side of the table but all he saw were clouds, some with faces, some without.

“Here we go.” The grass leader turned the paper so Allister could see properly. “What do you see?”

“You…you’ve drawn a lot of Wooloo?”

“Too right,” he announced, entirely too pleased with himself. “The way your teacher’s given the questions to you is too open and lets you overthink things way too much, so then you get worked up and then start flipping, am I right?” Allister did a double take.

“That’s honestly very accurate. How d-did you know?”

“I’ll let you in on a secret.” Milo leaned forwards (with the chair underneath in protest). “I used to be terrible at maths. I couldn’t even add properly without failing miserably.” At that Allister was surprised. After all Bea had said he’d gotten the idea Milo had simply been good at maths to start with.

“Really?”

“Sure as day. Until I sat down and took the numbers and put them on things in the real world. Things I could see and touch, and suddenly all the numbers had meaning. Let’s go through the first one. 17/4 added to 39/2.

“It’s alright so awkward…why can’t they use nicer numbers?”

“Ahaha, I know the feeling, Allister!” Milo cleared his throat. “Right, quiet voice, indoor voice.”

“You can…be passionate. Honestly…it’s nice to see.”

“Oh, really? Neat.” Milo gave him a genuine smile, so of course Allister’s body reacted on its own and turned him away to spare the embarrassment. “Anyway, let’s give our fractions two colours.” Milo took out another pen, this one black. “I put all the Wooloo of one colour in this pen, and all the others in this pen.”

Allister listened in as Milo began to explain his analogies. The ghost gym leader didn’t know a whole lot about the sheep Pokémon, but the numbers on the page were starting to make a whole lot more sense than they were before. The 39 Wooloo needed to double their number to 78 to make sure there were enough to balance the weight of the other, fatter 17 Wooloo.

Once they’d done that, he just needed to add the 17 and the 78 together to make 95. The farmer then decides he wants to sell some as he doesn’t need that many so he divides the Wooloo’s numbers be 4. Of course the remaining 3/4 is just Wooloo wool that was sheared off, as you can’t have less than a whole Wooloo to sell.

“I…wow…okay. Yeah. That’s pretty…neat.”

“Hey you think? Glad to hear it! Wooloo always save me when I’m in a pinch.” Milo leaned back, clearly happy with himself. “You can do the same with grain bags, or Pokéballs, or whatever you feel like. How do you feel about trying the next one?” Allister scanned down the page. There were only 10 questions, and none too crazy by the looks of things.

“Yeah, sounds wizard.”

“That’s my guy!” Milo covered his mouth again. “Whoops, can’t keep myself in check.”

“ ’m done.” Milo leaned back in.

“That was fast! Let me see what’s going on.” He only drew a couple of sheep before nodding his head in agreement. “You got it! See you’re a fast learner, you just need the right tools! All that wishy-washy theory stuff doesn’t help in the real world, right?”

“Right. Right!” Allister was definitely feeling more confident after getting the next question right and soon the worksheet was filled in. Letting Milo check over it, Allister breathed a sigh of relief. He’d began to sweat slightly under his mask from all the thinking but it was worth it. Mimikyu had wandered back in again and perched itself on his lab, purring in the odd way it did. Growling? Humming? It was always nice whatever it was.

“Well colour me impressed you did them all right! I don’t have a stamp to give you but…here!” Milo reached into his pocket, pulling out a crumpled, slightly stiff piece of paper.

“It’s…a coupon for free icecream?”

“Hah, yeah I’m not too big on the stuff so I figure you earned it. I didn’t do anything other than show you another way of thinking, you did all the real work.” Allister could feel his face heating up even further.

I really am bad at taking compliments from people. “Th-thanks. That’s n-nice of you…”

“No worries, little man!” Milo stood and checked the clock in the other room. “Weird the shop isn’t that far away right?”

“S’not, but I’m sure Bea is fine, she always is. Probably snuck some training in or something.”

“Sounds about right for her. Game face always on!” He turned back around, electing to sit on the sofa instead. “Well I’m not just up and leaving you without her around but I’m not just good with fractions you know. Bring your pen and paper and we can go through some other stuff too if you want?” He grinned. “Get ahead of your teacher and show them you can really do it!”

“Oh…hadn’t considered.” While he did still want to go outside, Allister conceded he was honestly having a nice time with Milo around. He could definitely see why he was as popular as he was. Patient but outgoing. “Sure…be nice…to not be confused all the time.”

Outside could be any time, Milo isn’t around all the time.

Allister gathered up his notes and pens and sat near enough to the other gym leader that he could see anything he could write. It wasn’t as close as he would have liked, but he was slowly getting more comfortable around more people. Mimikyu had followed him too so it was all in all a good time.

“Alright, let’s start with something cool, like bar graphs and pie charts.” Milo was already going to town on the piece of paper drawing Zamazenta knows what but Allister found it fun in a way.

Maths? Fun? When did that start happening?

---

“…and that’s how to find f(x) for definite integrals for elements of the real numbers. Hmmm…” Milo poked his cheek slightly. “I wonder if they’ll ask about that. Probably not but it’s useful to have!”

Allister nodded dumbly. He’d absorbed more information he’d thought was ever possible in the past hour. More maths than he’d ever learned in class and it was actually sticking too. He didn’t think that was possible.

Must be the Tuffield dialect. Makes things easier on my ears. Not like my teacher…Allister shuddered. His teacher was Kalosian, and the snooty type. She wasn’t bad by any means but definitely not his kind of person.

“Ah geez, I’ve filled up most of your pages with Wooloo sketches. I’ll get you a new one.” Milo wasn’t lying when he said he’d filled the pages, there were more sheep than numbers by quite a margin. Still, if Allister understood the maths he’d gladly buy as many notebooks as he needed.

“…Thanks…’re cute.”

The sound of keys brought him back to his senses as Bea stumbled through the door, bag full of items that included, but were certainly not limited to milk cartons.

“I apologise for the delay.”

Milo stopped his doodling on the Wooloo clouds and looked up.

“No bother at all, we’ve actually been having a blast!”

“A blast?” Bea walked past, putting everything she’d bought in the fridge save for a couple of things. “That right, Alli?”

“Yeah, sis, it’s…um…been pretty good honestly. Milo knows his stuff.”

“Aww heck, you’re real nice. Thanks for listening so well!” Milo stood. “It’s getting on though and I’m feeling pretty hungry so I should be…” Bea held up her hand.

“I figured I’d be late back so I got us some extra stuff for dinner. You’re welcome to stay, Milo.”

“Well…sure!” Milo looked down at Allister. “Do you mind if I stay a little longer, little man?”

“Y-you can stay.” He adjusted his mask again. “It’d be…nice having you.”

Bea looked back and forth between the two, somewhat surprised but she made sure to give nothing away. Allister was getting along with another person, as she’d always hoped he would. Granted, Milo was just about the easiest person in the region to talk to but small steps were the best kind of steps.

Really great to build up his confidence.

“Very good. It won’t take too long so I can tell you all about what I’ve been doing.”

“Good point, what have you been doing, Bea?” Milo looked over curiously. “Was the milk really heavy or something?”

“If you’d like to arm wrestle again you’re more than welcome.”

“Hah, I’m kidding I’m kidding. I need my arm tomorrow!” Milo sat down again, giving the books back to Allister. “I do want to see your and Gordie’s rematch though. The last time was wild!”

Bea pursed her lips.

“Wild is one word for it. Sore loser is another.”

“Seriously though…what happened?” Allister mumbled, not paying all that much attention. “You said you’d be 10 minutes tops.”

It was the strangest occurrence to see Bea smile so openly so Milo wasn’t sure it had really happened until it was over. No one would believe him of course and Allister wouldn’t rat his sister out for anything. A shame, he had a bet with Piers that it was possible.

Bea untucked a pokeball, a strange pattern emblazoned on the side of the metal.

“Allister…have you ever seen a Mismagius?”

 

Chapter Text

“Why did it have to pick today to rain,” Allister uttered simply. “I’m not just soaked I’m like…oozing water. Stupid clouds.”

His eyes remained fixated on the sky above, impassive and moody. They were swirling, howling almost, and churning bucketful after bucketful of nature’s goodness to the ground below. Allister appreciated everyone needed water to live but he preferred to appreciate it from the other side of a window, tucked away under a blanket. Instead here he was. Stranded.

Allister slid his back down the side of the Rose Tower’s inner wall, huffing at his misfortune. The glass awning over the main entrance provided a chic, but more importantly dry, space for him to stand (and definitely not sit awkwardly) while he waited for the downpour to pass.

He’d only been in Wyndon because it was a Saturday, which in Allister’s book meant exploring time. Supposedly there was a neat abandoned research facility somewhere, and while techno type things weren’t usually for him, ruins were ruins.

“Or they would’ve been had the sky not decided to sneeze!” Allister shook his fist angrily to no one in particular. “You’ve r-ruined my ruin exploring!”

Everyone else was indoors anyway so he didn’t feel nearly as shy voicing his grievances in public. Normally that was just simply not something he’d do. Today was full of things he didn’t expect to do, clearly.

Allister shuffled himself more, reassessing his current hideout; dry was maybe too strong a word. Though the building was modernity at its finest it certainly wasn’t impervious to the elements. The ghost leader had given up trying to wring his sleeves out and instead let them fall limply to his sides, pooling water around himself.

The buffeting wind was making sure a decent portion of the rain was reaching him anyway, and Allister never put energy into anything he considered a waste of time. He was at least grateful his mask was keeping the wind from stealing his breath away. It offered little protection from the wet however, the drips making their way from his sodden, matted hair, down his face and between the gap where his mask ended and skin began.

Biggest waste of time there is.

He didn’t dare take any of his Pokémon out not wanting them to get wet too; Allister bemoaned his lack of a psychic type with teleport to get him home and dry. Bea would be worried sick. He checked his phone as best he could, the constant water droplets making the touch screen a pain to navigate.

No new messages.

Allister pulled his knees up to his chest. Warmth was out of the question but it made him feel a little more secure. Just a self-comforting manoeuvre if anything. He’d let Bea know where he was and that he was safe and that was the main thing. He really didn’t want her making an enormous fuss or organising a search party. Allister shuddered at the thought.

All those people, all that attention…no thank you.

The severity of the rain had halted the trains, and the Corviknight’s disliked flying in weather where they were liable to be blown off course so the taxi service was out of the question too. That hadn’t stopped his sister from deciding she was going to battle the elements and come to him.

Allister shook his head, spraying water onto himself.

She’s so stubborn! Jus’ gonna get both of us wet now.

Allister knew he was just feeling guilty about making her come and get him, but guilty he felt all the same. He was grateful he mattered to her (not that he’d ever really doubt it despite what some of the voices in the back of his mind would threaten), but this was just absurd. Ever since she’d come back from the shops the day Milo had helped him with his maths, Bea had gotten it into her head that training in the elements was the next step for her.

 Where did she get that idea from? She’s nuts! She’s just gonna catch a cold, it’s miles from Stow-on-Side to Wyndon! Either that or I’m gonna get a cold and give it to her later…

Allister found himself banging pathetically on the sliding doors to Rose Tower. Saturday meant Rose Tower wasn’t open: the doors didn’t yield and there wasn’t anyone inside to let him in anyway. It didn’t stop Allister from pressing his hands up to the glass anyway for want of anything better to do. Better to be cold, wet, and active than cold, wet, and bored.

Now I sound like sis. Guess she’d be proud…probs mad that I got stranded though. Not like I control the weather…

Allister gave up on the door, turning his head back towards the darkened sky. He knew from books that there were apparently Pokémon in other regions that could affect the weather at will. He knew it was possible anyway, certain Pokémon like Abomasnow and Pelipper caused things like that if they got worked up. Not on this scale though.

His pen pal had called them ‘The Weather Trio’, though she’d explained there were two Unovan Pokémon that had similar abilities.

I wonder what I’ll tell her? Maybe this is their fault? Or maybe I’ve got crummy luck…she’ll get a good laugh either way.

Despite the chill and damp, Allister found a portion of warmth in his heart when thinking about his pen pal. Or Rotom Phone text pal was maybe a better word.

Too bulky. Pen pal works. How they did it in the olden days just waiting around for a reply sounds like anxiety waiting to happen. Glad I don’t have to deal with that.

There was a certain degree of anxiety for him either way: he hadn’t told Bea about her yet. She was sure to ask a lot of questions about it either way. He understood his sister was just playing her part and making sure he was safe…but he was still nervous.

He’d only been talking to her for a couple of months and they hadn’t even called properly. Just messages. Heck, they hadn’t even exchanged photos. She could be anyone! It could be a he! Allister sighed, for it was his insistence that he be kept hidden. Sending a photo would inevitably lead to him having to take his mask off at some point even if it didn’t happen right away.

Only Bea and his parents had ever seen him without it. Not even Bea’s parents had in the time he’d lived with them. The idea of showing himself to someone new was terrifying. Allister rocked himself back and forth, listening to the wind screaming through the trees.

Focus on something happy.

From what she’d said, his pen pal’s name was Acerola and she was Alolan. Apparently she loved ghosts just like he did, even owning a Mimikyu of her own. She also didn’t have any parents anymore…just like him too.

It had occurred to Allister on numerous occasions the person on the other end of the messages could simply be saying whatever would lure him in. Their stories were similar enough to make Allister wary enough that he felt guilty for not believing what Acerola told him. They could just be words to make him trust them, only to bite back later. Hurt him.

He wasn’t an idiot but he wanted to believe what he was reading from her was true. Bea would probably come to the same conclusions he had about the legitimacy, hence why he was so nervous to confess what he’d been doing.

Confess… s’not like I’ve been doing anything wrong, right? Bea’s always telling me to work on my trust with people. Figure this is the most trusting thing I could ever do! She’ll probably be happy…

Allister continued his internal dialogue back and forth, only occasionally tuning in to the outside world. He stopped caring after a while as nothing was changing. Apparently he was wrong.

“Small child, why are you outside of this building?”

“AHHHHHH?!” Allister leapt back, slick hands trying and failing to grasp his Pokéballs with any precision. Standing before him was none other than Macro Cosmos’s infamous second in command, Oleana. Her bored gaze staring down at his own fearful one, Allister got the feeling she knew exactly what he was thinking despite his face being concealed.

They hadn’t ever really met, but he’d heard all of the stories. That she was the scariest person in Galar despite her lack of emotion, that she’d fired people over perceived slights to the Chairman, and that she never forgot a face. Allister found himself wishing his face wasn’t so distinct anymore.

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” the secretary continued, electric green eyes boring into him. “Pick yourself off the floor and explain why you’re here. This is private property.” Oleana hadn’t bothered to step outside into the rain (that hairstyle probably wasn’t cheap), apparently having been inside the building the entire time. Of course she had.

Allister shakily stood, wondering if he was about to be arrested for trespassing. Bea definitely wouldn’t like that. Would his gym leader status be revoked? Would his Pokémon be taken away?? Would he have to go to court and speak to lots of people???

There were too many thoughts and Allister began to sway, nausea overcoming him. If Oleana was at all affected by his sorry display she wasn’t letting it show.

“If you haven’t anything to say you can stay out here. I have work to be doing.” She span on her heel, keycard at the ready to reclose the doors.

“…P-please don’t g-go!”

Oleana stopped, but didn’t turn around.

“Out with it, please.”

“ ‘m so-sorry.”

“Louder please, there’s quite a breeze outside.”

“I’m sorry!” Allister yelled, quite a bit louder than he’d meant to. “…I’m sorry for y-yelling too. Didn’t mean to.” He scuffed his feet awkwardly, kicking ripples through the puddles on the tarmac. “I Didn’t mean to bother you either. I…I was just wet and cold and wanted to get out of the rain…”

“…You’re certainly very wet. How long have you been outside?”

“…like 30 minutes? Not too long really…”

Oleana turned back, slower this time, giving him a once over. It was a critical gaze Allister knew that much. Everything she did was deliberate.

“…Come inside if you want, kid. Macro Cosmos is about helping people or so I’m told.”

“R-really?” Allister noted he sounded entirely too hopeful. He’d just expected to be kicked out and have to find somewhere else to be cold and wet.

“What did I tell you?”

“…You don’t like r-repeating yourself?”

“Exactly.” She snapped her fingers and started to walk. “Follow me or be wet. I know what’s it like to be wet so if I were you I’d come along.” Allister needed no further persuasion and hightailed it inside.

Although he’d been here once before, right after he’d become a gym leader, the place still astounded him. White granite, steel beams, tempered glass, the works. Fancy didn’t do it justice and it was only the foyer. Speaking of…

“You’re going to flood the place if you don’t change.” Allister peered down at the floor which he was now dripping all over. Reflective puddles in the halogen lamps. “I’m the only one here today but if you feel more comfortable you may face away to change.” Allister had to remind himself Oleana was talking to him. There wasn’t anyone else around and yet the way she said things never made them sound at all personal. “Or if you want to sit on the sofa you’ll have to change too.”

“O-oh…um…” Allister took note of the very inviting red plush sofa that occupied nearly the entire far wall. Far bigger than his bed at home. Even all of Bea’s training mats wouldn’t stretch that far.

“I can get you clothes, your gym clothes can go over the radiator.”

“I…w-wait you know I’m a gym leader?” Oleana bent down to his level, quite a feat considering the height disparity. She was very nearly double his height, even without the heels; a scary woman made all the scarier.

“Of course, It’s my job to know. I’d recognise that ridiculous uniform anywhere. Shorts, logos, all of it. Trashy if you ask me…and even if you don’t.”

“…Okay.”

She straightened up, pressing a button on the counter behind her. The reception wasn’t currently being attended but Oleana clearly knew what did what.

“I know who you are specifically too if that was what you actually meant.”

“Y-yeah.” Allister’s attempts to scuff his shoes made a horrible squeaking noise on the polished floor. Oleana raised an eyebrow stiffly but said nothing. “And sorry for the noise.”

“Your name is Allister, is it not?” Allister thanked her silently for ignoring the squeak. “The youngest gym leader we’ve ever had by quite a margin. An achievement some might say.”

“ S’pose.”

Oleana clicked her tongue.

“It’s a fact.”

“O-oh…um, when y-you put it l-like that…thanks.”

“Facts don’t require any thanks. If you have to thank anyone thank the Chairman for seeing your potential.” Before Allister could ask her to pass on anything he said (though he recalled mumbling out a couple of ‘thank you’s’ to Rose during the verification process) a quiet ‘ding’ was heard from the reception counter.

“What was that?”

“Your clothes are ready.”

“Just l-like that?” Allister couldn’t tell the expression Oleana made at his remark, not unsurprising, but it felt somehow…different. More sincere.

“I pressed the buttons that would perform that express purpose.”

“I thought you said you were the only other person here…?”

“I am,” Oleana agreed, turning back to the reception console. She typed another few commands on to the keyboard and Allister knew she could be launching a space shuttle or adjusting the heating and he’d have no way of telling the difference. “Many things at Rose Tower are automated.”

At that a small hiss, and the sound of a vent being open and shut could be heard. Allister watched in awe as a pile of neatly folded white clothes were dumped onto the kiosk from a seemingly invisible overhead duct.

Technology is great.

“You approve?” Oleana asked, noticing the ghost leader’s change in posture.

“O-oh…yeah actually. It’s really cool…how that just happened.” The secretary’s face was as impassive as ever, handing him the uniform silently.

“Change, I will be back in exactly seven minutes.” And then she was gone. Allister wasn’t really sure what to make of the whole situation it’d all happened so fast. Oleana hadn’t really asked permission before doing anything, but then again this was her building and he was a guest so Allister wasn’t about to complain.

Allister stood on tiptoes, craning his neck upwards to where the clothes had come from. It was nearly seamless, and his mask made it a little hard to tell, but there was an opening.

This place really has it all…can see why they’re in charge. A frown crossed his hidden features, noting the towel that had come with the clothes. Allister cast his mind back to his gym debut and the day he’d tried to camp outside. Oleana clearly thinks of everything, I…even got a towel because I’m soaked…so why were my gym flyers so…awful?

Allister tried to put it out of his mind. Advertising probably wasn’t her department, if anything the gaudy hearts, bright clashing colours, and smiling Gengars had all the hallmarks of something Leon would design.

That makes sense…wonder if Bea figured that too?

An involuntary shiver brought him back into the moment. Allister took a look out of the window, much happier to see the raging storm from the other side of the glass this time. However, the storm still had an influence over him whether he liked it or not; the sharp sound of crackling thunder lurched him forward. Allister’s mind immediately went into panic mode and this time when the nausea hit he couldn’t control it. There was no holding back what was to come, even with his mind screaming at him not to.

I’m gonna…I’m gonna…

Though his head was spinning Allister had enough awareness to grab a hold of the counter as best he could, ripping his mask off of his face before he threw up. It made a dull splat of a sound, echoing slightly in the empty hall. Thankfully, it all landed on the floor, not on the kiosk or where his mask had skittered. That would definitely need some explaining.

Allister collapsed, his head ablaze. He could feel himself shaking but it wasn’t something he could feel. It was disconnected as it always was. The acrid taste of sick unfortunately wasn’t.

That was…I was…noise…

He could just about make out that Mimikyu was beside him now, huddling against his now shaking body.

P-pathetic…one sharp noise…and d-down I go.

Allister sat in a daze, propping himself against the side of the counter. Mimikyu had retrieved his mask which was the least but of consolation he could ask for. It sat by him as he hugged his knees, rubbing his back in the way it knew calmed him down. Somewhat.

Oleana…she’s gonna…s-she’s gonna……be mad.

The thought of making the only good luck he’d had today turn bad snapped Allister back to his senses. Whether it was adrenaline, willpower, or his fear of failure (or indeed the notoriously scary secretary who’d let him in) he didn’t know, but he knew he had to act. Letting himself slip into an episode wasn’t a luxury he could afford in a stranger’s place.

He still felt terrible and drained, but clarity was all he needed. Before he potentially lost himself again, Allister flung off his ruined clothes (grateful his Pokémon had the decency to turn its back to him) and hastily dried himself with the towel.

It too was white so it wasn’t too shocking it had blended in so well with the clothes. Fluffy too, Allister found himself wondering if it was a Wooloo product. Milo would be sure to know. The uniform itself was the standard Macro Cosmos style, though big on his slight frame. Baggy was infinitely better than wet, Allister didn’t bother even trying to fold his discarded clothes instead opting to wring them out on to the already wet floor.

‘ S’ already got puddles doesn’t matter now.

The clothes were, as Oleana had instructed, placed over the radiator in the far corner of the room. Allister had to stop twice to regain his balance but it was a success at least.

Still can’t…believe…I threw up…on their fancy floor.

It was an effort in and of itself, but Allister was able to trudge over to the sofa that had been pointed out to him, careful to step around the pools of water which were now mixing with his unfortunate discharge. It was spreading it further, he noted dully. Of course it was.

I’ll clean that up…jus’ want to rest…a little first.

Allister climbed on, the size of it providing ample wiggle room to find a comfortable position. Mimikyu leapt up with him, curling up in front of his chest; his arms instinctively wrapped around the disguise Pokémon and pulled it close, hugging it to him as best he could.

No more than 5 minutes…then I’ll clean up.

Allister was out like a light, exhaustion overtaking him at long last.

The click of Oleana’s heels on the granite was lost to him, just another dream from a tired boy.


A sharp snap brought Allister crashing back to the real world, heart beating up a storm. His head turned towards the now sitting secretary though her face was still giving nothing away. Oleana sat fashionably far away, though very much within ear shot.

“You’ve been asleep for an hour and twenty minutes, I’ve decided that you don’t need any more rest. The rain has not stopped.”

“W-what? A-an hour?!” Allister looked towards the glass doors, finding indeed that the downpour had gone nowhere.

“And twenty minutes,” Oleana replied, nodding noncommittally.

“I…oh…that’s…um…”

“Only idiots speak when they have nothing to say.”

“A-Ahhh…s-sorry.” Allister sat himself up, though thankfully not waking his now snoring Mimikyu. “And sorry about…huh?” He scanned the floor of the reception as fast as he could, searching for any trace of the physical result of his anxiety.

“I have cleaned it up.”

It must have been Allister’s imagination but he swore, just for a moment, that Oleana’s features had softened.

“Y-you…did?” She nodded.

“Cleaning up filth is something I’m no stranger to. I don’t mind it at all. A mop and the water you dripped everywhere made it very easy. It was never that easy for me.”

Allister noted her thumb casually stroking the surface of one of her Pokéballs. It looked old. Really old, scratched and dented in places; it had clearly been in her possession for a long time. Her expression was…lost. She was just staring off into space.

Like she’s remembering…something…

“I might have all of the riches in the world now but it hasn’t changed who I am or my roots.”

“…”

“You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” Oleana hadn’t turned her head back to him, her gaze still unfocused. Those electric green eyes were more of a rippling pond than anything to him. It was bizarre and he wasn’t sure how to feel. Until then he wasn’t sure that she could feel.

“I…don’t.”

Oleana pursed her lips slightly.

“I didn’t think so. I do understand you, just a little. I don’t like you, or even have any strong opinion at all of you, Allister. I do believe we share some similarities however.” She leaned back on the sofa heavily, running her fingers through her hair. Hair that was now messed up but she obviously wasn’t paying attention to it.

“Similarities?” Allister was almost afraid of the answer. She’d called him by his name which almost felt…wrong. Like it was forbidden. She was the scary second in command of Macro Cosmos, an eye for detail and eye for vengeance in equal measure. Strange didn’t begin to cover it.

“Yes. You don’t have to say anything.” Oleana gave him a brief, bored look. For someone who was always in control she looked exhausted, slumped back like a folded book. “I’ve read your file.”

“I h-have a file?”

“Every gym leader has a file on record. In fact I’m personally in charge of reviewing and editing them.”

That…makes sense. Secretaries do lots of typing…right?

“You have a large amount of anxiety. It almost cripples you. Chairman Rose wasn’t sure if you were ready.”

Hearing that crushed Allister’s small heart. After everything he’d gone through, everything he’d achieved, he still wasn’t good enough?

“I…”

“I get it though. Life hasn’t been kind to you, nor me. We both got our second chance though.” Oleana straightened herself up slightly, crossing her legs. “When I said you should have thanked Chairman Rose for scouting you out that wasn’t the whole story, if you care at all.” She was clearly going to tell him either way and Allister was curious so he shut up. “Do you remember the day your letter of approval came in the mail?”

“…I…do?” Allister furrowed his brow, stroking Mimikyu absentmindedly. “It…came a day late. Bea was livid…she got so worked up over it…crazy.”

“That sounds like your adoptive sister.” It wasn’t a jibe or an insult…more of a blank comment. “Chairman Rose was on the wall about whether you could be entrusted with running a gym. He saw you had great potential as a trainer, it was obvious. However in his eyes it was an enormous step up to being a gym leader from a trainer which is absolutely correct. He was leaning towards delaying your application until the next challenger season.”

“…Oh…I don’t blame him honestly.”

“I convinced him otherwise.”

Allister’s eyes widened as far as they could go.

“Y-you…you?” It clicked. “You’re the reason my l-letter was late! You told him to…wait another day and think it over…right?”

“That almost passes for observant.” Oleana hummed slightly, stroking her strange Pokéball again. “I simply reminded him of what he did for me. He did all the rest of the work on his own.”

“…What…um you don’t have to a-answer actually…but I’m curious. What did he…do for you?”

“As I said, he gave me a second chance.” Oleana sighed. It was unsightly coming from her, someone usually uptight to the point of inhumanity…but that’s exactly what made it interesting to see. Oleana was human through and through, just strange. “I suppose I saw some of myself in you when I was your age. Not a lot mind you, but some.”

“…”

“Bea would do anything for you, you know that do you not?” A ghost of an emotion that could have passed for a smile had it been on anyone else’s lips flickered across her features.

“I…of course.” Allister hugged his knees. “She’s the best big sis I could ask for. I don’t…tell her that enough. She got me a ghost Pokémon we don’t even have in Galar recently!” A smile crossed his face. “Didn’t even tell me what she had to do to get one…I hope it wasn’t too much…”

“Well I’m glad you appreciate that either way.” Oleana stopped, noting his change in demeanour. “I didn’t have anyone like that growing up. Your adoptive sister is…good for you.”

“…She is? I-I mean I know she is…but like…w-what do you mean?”

“She’s coming here even in the rain just to make sure you’re safe.”

“How did you…?”

“You got a message on your Rotom Phone while you were asleep. I read it because I felt like doing so.”

“…Okay.”

“I answered it for you, letting her know.” Olean uncrossed her legs, the click of her heels echoing as they touched the floor. “She’s coming anyway. Battling through the worst storm Galar has seen in generations just because she wants to.”

“And for training.”

“Yes that too I’m sure.” Oleana stood. “The Chairman believes it has something to do with ‘The Darkest Day’”.

“The Darkest day?”

“It’s a Galarian folk story. You should read up, diverse education is good for the brain at your age.”

“O-oh…”

“Anyway,” Oleana said dismissively, waving her hand. Whatever she had said clearly warranted no further discussion in her mind. “Would you like tea or coffee?”

“…You can do that?”

“I’m the vice president I can do what I want within reason. I’m also a secretary and know how to make tea and coffee. You still smell of sick and I dislike repeating myself as you know, so would you like tea or coffee?”

“I…would…t-thanks.” The taste of vomit was not something he’d enjoyed waking up to but a drink would be sure to help.

“It will warm us both up. I only came in today to grab a folder and yet the weather has made me tired.” Oleana began to walk off again, this time back to the reception counter. Allister followed her path with his eyes until he came upon a fixture on the end of the desk, resembling a kettle and spout.

I’m glad Galarian’s like kettles as much as we do. Always on hand…for emergencies. Mimikyu was awake now, stirred by the sound of the bubbling the kettle like device was beginning to make.

“You don’t drink coffee do you?”

“Kyuu…”

“Didn’t think so, heh. I’ll make sure you get something good when you get home, okay?”

“Mimi-kyu!” The snuggling up to his arm was an indicator in Allister’s book that had been the right thing to say.

“Thanks for being there for me again.”

“Mim-i-mikyu!” His Pokémon nudged his pokéball and returned. Allister found himself stroking its surface, only stopping when he realised he’d been mirroring Oleana’s earlier actions.

If I’ve learned anything today…she isn’t made of stone…like people think. Whatever that Pokémon is she cares for it dearly.

 Speaking of, the woman in question was returning, two cups in tow. After thanking her (and another rebuttal) Allister lifted his mask and drank as best he could without having to take it off. He was surprised to note what he’d been given tasted neither quite like tea nor coffee, while Oleana sipped at her own cup in silence.

“This…is…?”

“Hot chocolate,” she finished. “That was in your file too. I’m not well versed in sweet things but I have done the best I could with our facilities.”

Allister pondered this for a moment. It definitely wasn’t like any sort of hot chocolate he’d ever drank before, it had a bitterness in its core that was mixed with a sweetness only packet sugar could produce. Whatever it was it was making him more alert than he’d expected, but not to the point of anxiety. More…an awareness of himself.

“Thanks, e-even if you don’t want it…”

“Just because it isn’t necessary doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy being thanked.” Allister tried to gauge the woman’s expression again, drawing a blank. She was staring into her own cup, almost lost as she’d been earlier.

“It’s black coffee with a pinch of sugar,” she answered before Allister could pose the question himself.

“…”

“…”

“…Do you g-get days off?” Allister found himself asking. He wasn’t really sure why he had, only that it had been blurted out to a silent room.

“…”

“ ‘was just curious is all…”

“I get days off, kid, I’m not a slave.” A flicker of annoyance. “Chairman Rose gives me whatever days off I ask for. I just seldom take them. My choice.”

“Oh…yeah that makes sense…I mean everyone knows h-how hard you work.”

Oleana raised an eyebrow, balancing her cup on her knees.

“And here I thought people thought I was a lapdog and a yes-woman.”

“O-oh…um…”

“You can relax, I heard the sincerity in your voice. I’m just not deaf to criticism either.” Whether it was necessary or not Oleana stuck her index finger into the cup and stirred, the heat apparently not bothering her. “I’m a person too with my own skillset. What I want just so happens to be what the Chairman wants. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have the chance to do anything at all.”

“Like…at all?”

“At all,” she confirmed. Apparently content with her stirring Oleana downed the remainder of her cup in one fell swoop. Allister found himself mildly impressed with the feat, still sipping tentatively at his not quite coffee, not quite hot chocolate. “I have many skills I didn’t know I had before the Chairman found me. Did you know it was I who developed the Dynamax band prototype?”

“You did?” Allister shook his head, more than a little miffed. “I thought…secretaries didn’t do things…like that?”

“They don’t you’re not wrong. I was a researcher, a scientist if you will believe. I also designed large parts of the system here at Rose Tower.” She deftly pointed a manicured finger in the direction of the reception kiosk. “Including our uniform delivery system.”

“The clothes…,” Allister mumbled, tugging at his uniform.

“When you said you were impressed with the system I designed I was happy if you could tell. It is fine if you couldn’t.”

“…‘m glad it made you happy. ”

Oleana ignored him, but then again that was no different to her reaction at being told her clothing delivery was good.

“I gave you the smallest standard size we have but even that is too large for you.” Oleana spared the ghost gym leader a glance. “You’re very thin, Allister.”

“I…that wasn’t a compliment either…was it?”

“You’re learning. I could almost tell you well done.” Oleana’s bored expression had returned, fingers drumming on the soft fabric of the sofa. “If someone were to tell me I was thin too I wouldn’t take it as one either.”

“…”

“I’m aware people see me as attractive I’m not deaf to that either. Whatever man or woman comes my way I turn down, they’re only after my looks…I know what it’s like for people to see right through you…nothing changed except for my looks…and it’s sickening that’s what people value…”

Allister could see her scrunching the fabric with each pause in her sentences, confused. Something was bothering her, that much was obvious even if her face gave nothing away.

“Y-you said we were similar, r-right?”

The look Oleana shot him was nothing short of terrifying in Allister’s book. It had only lasted for a second or so but in that time her entire face had contorted into the most vicious scowl a human face could possibly have produced and then some. Rock would most certainly have turned to magma under the gaze and Allister wanted nothing more than to hide, his heart pounding. This was definitely the Oleana everyone had been whispering about. And then…it was gone.

Oleana’s face softened considerably, taking note of Allister’s recoil.

“I…I apologise. That was not called for. You…are just a child. I shouldn’t direct my anger like that.”

“…That was v-very…”

“Scary, you don’t have to say. Again,” Oleana placed her cup to the floor. “I apologise.”

“It’s…it’s alright. P-people are a-allowed to be mad.” Allister hugged his knees to his chest on reflex. “I’m just jumpy…is all.”

“That much is plain to see.” Oleana slumped back into the confines of the sofa once again. “You’ve had a lot go on in your life even at your age. Due to your file I know more or less what. I suppose hearing you say what I have been saying to you made me feel angry.”

“At…what?”

“Hmmm, I’m not entirely sure.” The secretary mirrored Allister, pulling her knees up onto the sofa, crossing her arms and placing them on top. “Our childhoods have made us both thin people. Unnaturally so. I was homeless for a very long time, I never ate very much nor had I the opportunity to do so. You…lost a great deal of weight from an already small body because of stress.”

“…Yeah.” Oleana had said she’d spare the details of saying exactly what he’d had to deal with but the reference alone was a feeling in and of itself. Still…there wasn’t a way around it and he appreciated her tact on the matter. He still cried to Bea about it during the nights sometimes.

Most times. Allister mentally corrected himself. She puts up with so much from me. I need to do more for her. More importantly…the vice president was homeless? She’s so…put together. I wouldn’t have guessed that…oh. Allister put the pieces together. That’s exactly her point.

“I suppose…I got annoyed that society sees us both as beautiful…or in your case they will do in time. Our battered bodies are just prizes in the end even though we both have sticks for arms. I’ve already heard comments about you being ‘mysterious’ and ‘charming’ with your demeanour. Still…such is fame, the League, and the public eye. No other way around it.”

 Oleana gave Allister a look, and Allister wasn’t sure what it was trying to convey. It was…sympathy almost. Something close anyway.

“I suppose you still don’t know what I’m trying to say, do you?”

“Not…really…” Allister admitted. Oleana slipped further back into the sofa.

“I’m not very good with facial expressions. I try my best but I’m just imitating what I see around me. We both wear masks, kid. However you get to take yours off whenever you feel like even if that’s rare. I don’t emote like regular people. It’s…lost on me.”

“I…” Allister considered the information for a moment. A lot of what Oleana had said rang true, considering what he knew now. “Even if we…both wear our masks. I don’t think we’re lesser for it?”

“…”

“You know about my parents, we don’t have to hide it.” Allister didn’t miss the glance he’d gotten but thankfully she remained silent. “And I’m starting to understand…a little about you. People look at us…seeing what they want to and not w-what we are, right?”

“…Sounds about right. I think…,” Oleana cracked her back unceremoniously. Years of stress could do that apparently, Allister wondered whether Bea could do that too with her training. “…that if more people saw things like you did we might have a better society.”

“Including the s-seeing ghosts part?”

“I…I will make a note of that in your file. Clearly they’re not as complete as I believed.” Oleana paused. “It makes a degree of sense though. Life wasn’t kind to either of us.”

“Still…we both g-good things in our lives right? Goals? We’re people too…”

Oleana wordlessly took Allister’s finished cup from him, her own in the other hand and placed them on the reception desk.

“Indeed. I now have the Chairman and his goals to consider. You have your sister and your responsibilities as a gym leader. Speaking of,” Oleana checked the time at the computer the reception housed. “Significant time has passed. She should be arriving soon. I’m not sure of what her plan is when she arrives. It is still raining.”

She right, Allister knew. What Bea was actually going to do was a mystery but it was the thought that counted. Allister also took note that Oleana was now walking away, heading towards the door she’d initially left by.

“Where are you going?”

“I still have work to do. I’m not entirely sure why I stayed as long as I did, but I must return to my tasks.”

“Y-you’re not gonna stay until my sis arrives?” Olean stopped.

“I don’t think so. You may tell her I said ‘hi’ if you wish. I’ve had enough interactions for one day. I’m sure you can relate.”

“I…yeah.” Allister’s head dipped. “Definitely.”

“You don’t need to be disappointed in yourself.”

“H-huh?” Allister raised his head again to see Oleana looking back over her shoulder. It was barely perceptible but she was giving him a look that indicated support of a type.

“It is as you said. Neither of us are wrong in the ways we act. We’re people too.”

Allister could feel his face getting hot under the mask, a tiny smile crossing his face.

“Yeah…”

“I think…I needed to hear that, now you need to believe your own words.”

“I will…try. A-and…um…thanks for helping me…become a gym leader.” Allister resisted the urge to fidget, knowing it was just nerves. “I really l-like it, even if…I don’t always win.”

“Good. Trying is all anyone can ask of anyone. No gym leader wins all of the time.” Oleana swiped her keycard to the far door. “You are strong in a way that normal people can’t comprehend, and you will make a fine gym leader. However…don’t hide yourself away. Let your sister and others help you in the ways you struggle with.”

“I understand, t-thanks. Why are you telling me this?”

Oleana shrugged.

“You needed to hear it. I’m a scary woman and I think if you’re not going to listen to me then no one will get through to you.”

“…”

“Also, no one will ever believe I said any of this. Some ‘shit like that’ as kids say these days. I’d apologise for the profanity…but I don’t feel like it.”

“I…h-heh. I understand, Miss Oleana.”

“Good. You may keep the uniform.” And just like that she was gone. The two cups of finished coffee and hot chocolate were the only indicators she’d ever even been here. Allister wondered what had just happened, coming to no solid conclusions. Even the gesture of the coffee itself was not something he’d ever expected to receive.

Honestly I really did just expect to be kicked out for trespassing. I think I like this better.

His clothes passed for dry now, Macro Cosmos didn’t skip on their heating bill apparently. Allister was all the more grateful but didn’t change back, noting the rain’s adamant refusal to budge even a little. He ran his fingers over the back of his hoodie, reflecting.

Miss Oleana is not the person I thought she would be. Lots of people judge me based on how I look…I shouldn’t have judged her like that. Allister then remembered her scary face and shuddered. Though she can still be a right scary woman if she wants to be…

Allister sat himself back on the sofa. The floor was completely dry now he noticed. Not a trace of water nor his earlier mishap.

She’s right no one would believe me if I told them about her. Well…Bea might. Be nice to know I’m not going crazy or imagined the whole thing.

It was another 10 minutes before Bea burst through the front of the Rose Tower building, drenched beyond belief. Wild eyes, windswept hair that was notably missing its usual headband, and panting due to the exertion she made a beeline through reception to Allister. Thankfully she restrained herself on giving him a hug just yet, not even bothering to use the towel he was still in possession of.

“Uh sis, what’s the plan for getting back…?”

The colour drain for her face wasn’t something Allister got to see everyday but at this point today wasn’t all that surprising anymore. Today hadn’t gone at all as he’d planned, heck he could have still been exploring that abandoned building if the rain hadn’t come.

“…I didn’t think that far ahead. I just wanted to make sure you were safe.”

“Thanks, Bea. It’s the thought that counts. Let’s wait this one out.”

Chapter Text

“The challenger is out of Pokémon! Gym leader Allister is our winner, folks!!!” 

Amidst the reverberations of the booming voice around the stadium, Bea could feel her heart swelling with pride. His second ever official battle and he’d aced it, even giving an awkward little wave to the crowd before shambling off the pitch.

“He didn’t even need to dynamax to win. They got tripped up by Mimikyu’s disguise, makes me wonder how they were able to beat my gym so easily…”

Bea turned her head to the man sitting next to her.

“That’s no way to speak, gym leader Kabu. The challenger had a lot of water types.”

Kabu had decided to show up to Stow-on-side’s stadium on a whim, knowing it was the same trainer who had beaten him not a week earlier. He was nothing if not diligent in his learning and Bea found herself admiring the older man. Never giving up nor wavering despite his misfortunes.

“Perhaps.” Kabu was instead focused on the spot where Allister had been standing. “However your brother was not fighting at his best either and still prevailed.”

“Ah…you noticed that?” Bea shook her head. Of course he had, Kabu was a very experienced trainer with a wealth of knowledge. Years ahead in terms of discipline even to herself.

“I did. His movements when giving directions to his Cursola were sluggish.” The fire leader shook his head, resting his chin on his hands. “I hope he hasn’t come down with an illness though it seems likely.”

Bea had to suspend her disbelief; not many things got past Kabu.

“A couple of days ago he was caught in that storm. He might have gotten a cold from it.”

Kabu turned to her, doing his best to ignore the rowdiness of the fans around him. While the din certainly added to the atmosphere of the gym experience it was no place for polite conversation.

“He did? That was certainly the most rain I’ve seen in many years. The only time I’ve ever seen a downpour that severe was when I was still in Hoenn!”

“Ah yes, from ‘those fools’ as you put it?” Bea had heard all of the stories of Team Aqua and Magma’s infamous exploits first hand from Kabu, as had the other gym leaders during their conferences. To live through events like that and live to tell the tale was certainly something else.

“Quite. Nothing as bad as that here though I hope.” Kabu looked around him. It was best practice to not try to push past people when leaving. His politeness never allowed it, even if meant staying a little longer. “I understand you were caught in the same storm to try and rescue him as well?”

“Voluntarily caught,” Bea corrected. “He got himself stranded outside of Rose Tower so I went to make sure he was safe.”

“Haha!” Bea earned herself a hearty clap on the back. “Truly you have a fiery spirit and indomitable will! Perhaps you should have been a fire type specialist instead?”

Bea found herself smiling, though made sure no one but Kabu had seen. Showing weakness was definitely not something she wanted to make a habit of, especially not in as populated a place as a Pokémon stadium.

“Coming from you, sir, that means the world to me.”

“There’s no need for honorifics like that, I’ve told you.” The older man shook his head, clearly reminiscing. Call me ‘gym leader’ if you must but we share a title, there is no need when we are as equals.”

“I will…try my best. Do know I look up to you, though.”

This prompted another laugh.

“As I do to you! The young and old generations can both learn from each other. Why I remember the days when I had a Blaziken by my side! Both fire and fighting!”

Bea let him continue on, supressing her urge to smile was difficult around Kabu was always difficult but she managed. Listening to him talk about his past days as a gym challenger in Hoenn, his inspiration from the Lavaridge Town gym leader in becoming a solely fire type trainer, his experience with the phenomenon known as mega evolution…he was a true fountain of knowledge and enthusiasm.

She’s even admit later that she’d altered her training regime slightly to incorporate elements of his own. Of course, now wasn’t the time for her to faun over him; the crowd was starting to disperse slightly.

She was glad Allister had allowed her to watch his second match but regretted she’d had to sit so far back in the stands to do so. Fallen trees and branches from the storm had made getting anywhere in Stow-on-side (or indeed anywhere in Galar at the present moment) difficult and she’d been late because of it; having Pangoro and Machamp help her punch aside the trees wasn’t an option now that people were outside again.

“I think we’re in the clear to be going.” Kabu stood, jogging on the spot as he was prone to do. “You had best check up on your brother, given what you said he likely has a cold brewing. He’ll need to take it easy for a quick recovery.”

Bea bowed slightly, clasping her hands.

“I will bear that in mind, gym leader Kabu. I just hope I’m able to persuade him to let me take any challengers if he falls unwell.”

“If anybody can do it, it will be you. Come, let us be off.”

“Quite.”

I wonder if I will, the success today will have definitely motivated Allister. It’s going to be unfortunate if he has to stop his momentum like this…


“Allister you’re ill.”

“ Mmno…I’m…SNIFF…not.” The great show of sniffling and otherwise throat clearing did nothing to convince Bea otherwise. It was now the morning after his last gym battle and, as Kabu had predicted, Allister had come down with a cold.

Who knew that being out in the freezing rain was bad for you? Guess I have all my training to thank that I haven’t caught one yet.

Seeing Allister’s frail body laying on his bed, covers feebly pulled around himself like he was trying to hide from his headache was like a gut punch to Bea. Frail…Bea had no option but to call it frail. She had to be honest with herself about her brother’s body, it was nowhere near in the shape she was in terms of physicality. He could handle stairs and walking, lifting if he had to, but actual illnesses always crippled him.

He was a far sight better than when she’d first met him that was for sure, he could actually move without shaking now. Some ‘meat on his bones’ as Raihan would say but he was still thin. Any less and Marowak would be trying to add him to their collections. Bea found herself thankful that they weren’t Galarian natives or they might be trouble.

Why he’s suddenly interested in exercise and swimming is beyond me. He’s definitely hiding something from me. Bea did her best to dispel those thoughts, smoothing the blankets over her brother. This isn’t the time to bring this up. Right now he needs me.

“I…I g-got a challenger *cough* this afternoon.” Allister tried and failed to remove the duvet, his strength clearly depleted beyond even that already. “ ‘m gonna walk it off. Like you do.”

“Alli, please. Don’t hurt yourself. You need rest.” Bea brushed some of her brother’s hair away from the top of his head. He still insisted on wearing his mask even now; no doubt there were germs building up on the side of it. His nose was running if the sniffing was anything to go by which made it all the worse. Allister tried to brush her off. It was like fluttering tissue paper meeting a steel wall but Bea respected the gesture and backed off all the same.

“I need to go…I can be strong…just like you!”

“…” Bea didn’t have a good response to that. Allister was using the only thing she couldn’t refute. As she sat on the edge of his bed Bea took his temperature lightly.

Burning.

“I’ll be fine…jus’ gotta be strong…”

“…Do you want your cereal? I can bring it to you?”

“T-thanks, sis.”

Bea said nothing, already knowing his response in advance. Once Allister had an idea it was hard to make him let go of it. She knew she’d have to be subtle if anything was to happen. Bea stood and walked out of the room, taking one last look at her brother before leaving. It was hard on her, she really wasn’t sure what she could do to persuade him. She wasn’t the sort of person who was good with words.

Ev erything I do I just sort of make up as I go along. I never had a good example to follow when I was living at home, compassion and all that. Neither can I just do the opposite of what my parents did. I need…balance.

Bea returned with his cereal, Allister thanking her through his coughs. Bea didn’t really mind being coughed all over but it still wasn’t ideal. Still, she stayed with him, waiting until he had messily slurped the last of the milk.

“…doesn’t taste of anything today.”

“Your nose is blocked.” Bea took the bowl back, trying not to touch the spoon. She stopped, an idea forming in her head. “How do you think you would get rid of your blocked nose, Alli?”

“By…by fighting it!” Bea gave him a quizzical look.

“Are you just saying that because you think it’s the response you think I want to hear?”

“…I mean…that’s how you usually do it, right?” Bea shook her head.

“Not all of the time. Meditating and waiting is its own skill. You remember?”

“I…” Allister clearly wasn’t in any shape to be thinking hard but he gave it his best shot. “That sounds about right.”

“So if I said waiting your cold out is the best way to fight it, would you believe me?”

“I do, Bea, b-but my gym match…”

“If you expend all your energy fighting your cold you’ll just make it stay for longer.”

“…”

“…Besides you did very well yesterday. I’m very proud of you.”

“T-thanks…SNIFF…sis.”

“Gym leader Kabu enjoyed it too, and he agrees that rest is the best course of action from you.” Allister lifted his mask slightly to wipe his nose; Bea caught his hand before it got too far, placing a paper towel into his open palm. “And don’t wipe it on your sleeves.”

“R-right…” Allister snorted into the tissue, a disgusting sound in all honesty but it was better out than in. “Mr. K-Kabu really said that?”

“He did.” Bea always found it humorous how they both had their own way of addressing the older gym leader. He never cared for the honorifics but he received them all the same. “He knows the value of resting your body as much as pushing it. Right now it’s resting time, not fighting time. If you won’t listen to me then try to listen to him.”

Allister shook his head, tossing the dirty tissue in the vague direction of the bin. It landed next to the others, next to it in a pile.

“ N’aww I’m listening, sis, don’t worry. I *cough* get it. You don’t meditate for no reason.”

That was…surprisingly easy. The cold has to be clouding his head I’ve never been able to talk him down like that before. Or…maybe I’m just getting better?

“I’m…glad you understand.”

“I’m j-just sad about today’s challenge. I r-really enjoyed yesterday even if it was terrifying. Bein’ a gym leader is tops!” Bea ruffled Allister’s locks slightly, smiling gently.

“I know the feeling. It’s a rush, being out there with your Pokémon feels good doesn’t it?” Allister nodded. “The adrenaline must have been holding back the worst of your cold, huh?” Another nod. “We’re on the same page. I’ve got to say I’m grateful for that.”

“I know…you’ve got my…” Allister almost sounded as if he was falling back to sleep. A full belly of cereal would definitely do that, Bea mused. “…My best interests…at heart. ‘M just bad at showing I understand.”

“You’re doing great today,” Bea reassured, wrapping a lock of hair around her finger. “I’m proud of you. I know I said it already but I’ll never stop saying it.”

“T-thanks…s’nice to hear…” Bea stayed with her brother another few minutes as his stifled breathing became as rhythmic as it could endeavour to be before turning to the door.

“If I take on your challenger today, how about you take mine next week? That way you’ll still get another battle.” Bea felt Allister tense ever so slightly, but was relieved to feel him relax.

“…Alright. You win, I’ll stay and rest. Stupid rain…”

“It was very stupid rain,” Bea agreed. “If I’m going out later I’ll need to find someone to watch over you here.” Allister coughed for the umpteenth time.

“Aww crumbs…guess that makes sense though.”

Bea noted that the cold was also supressing Allister’s natural desire to run and hide, or interact with other people in anyway. It was slightly unfair to him, but it was the only good aspect of him being ill that had presented itself. Bea always took openings when she could get them.

“I’ll give Melony a ring, how about that?”

“…M’kay.”

Bea sincerely hoped he wasn’t just saying that or spacing out. Waking up with someone he wasn’t familiar with in the house was just asking for trouble.

“You know who that is?”

Allister nodded, slower than last time.

“Ice…gym leader. White-ish hair…like snowy mountains.”

“And you know you can trust her? Trusting her is like trusting me, okay?” She posed her last statement as a question too, wanting to make absolutely sure he understood.

“Y-yeah…I know.”

Not the conviction Bea had been hoping for but it was better than the ‘Absolutely no way, sis’ she’d been expecting. Today was definitely a good day.

“Good.” Bea scooped the bowl up, careful not to tread on the pyramid of loose tissues that had accumulated next to the bin. “I’m…” She turned back, unsure of how to phrase herself. “I’m glad you’ve taken to being a gym leader. It means…a lot to me. A whole lot.”

“Heh…d-don’t be gettin’ emotional, sis.” She could feel him smiling under his mask. The warmth in her heart spreading was proof if she ever needed it. Not that she did. “Got a challenger, remember?”

Bea gave him a playful bat around the ear before disappearing off to the kitchen.

Honestly. She didn’t bother hiding her smile though. In her own home she could express as much joy as she wanted at her brother’s progress. It was still a mountain to climb but having a basecamp was a victory in its own right.

Melony wasn’t too hard to reach either, contrary to what Bea had expected. Having 5 kids did wonders for sapping her time but the ice type specialist always made time for others. That was just how she was. Some even called her ‘the mother to all the league’ and it was a title she embraced wholeheartedly. Bea hoped she wasn’t taking advantage of that when she called.

“Bea you have the most perfect timing!”

“I do?” Definitely not what she’d been expecting to hear.

“You do, what can I do for you?”

Though the connection was still shaky and crackled due to the storm’s lingering influence, Bea was able to explain the situation with Allister and the gym.

“The poor thing! I’ll be over as soon as I can. Shouldn’t be too long, honey.”

A click and the line went dead.

That was more abrupt than I’d expected.

Bea frowned slightly. She’s seemed…on edge somehow. For Melony that only ever meant one thing unfortunately.

She had another disagreement with Gordie.

Bea sat herself at the kitchen table, noting the chair Milo had sat on had never been the same. Those creaks definitely hadn’t been there before she’d left for those groceries. Bea didn’t mind, Milo was great to be around and Allister’s grades had never been better. He’d even stuttered out that he was actually looking forward to going to school some days. Bea felt the warmth inside her grow even brighter, but judder to a halt as she refocused into the present moment.

Did I just provide an escape for Melony? I hope I’m not enabling her. It was just a coincidence I called at the time I did. Plus Melony and Gordie fighting is what Circhester is known for anyway, it’s hardly a rare occurrence. She’s the best person to be around Allister right now, I hope he can help her too. People just seem to open up to him for some reason. I wish…

Bea stopped herself dead. Those were dangerous thoughts and led to nowhere good.

I’m glad Allister and I don’t have it as bad as Melony and Gordie. Not nearly as bad.

Still, Bea deeply regretted any and all times they fought. It was usually over trivial things but it always hurt. The major ones were few and far between.

When we first moved in the house…when he got lost on the way to school…when he was being bullied at school…close when he tried to camp outside for the night but thankfully not.

“I hope it isn’t just the adrenaline and cold talking that’s made him take to his matches. I know he’s still scared stiff by having to walk out and perform in front of so many people. His masks are all that separates him from them.”

She didn’t have a problem with voicing her thoughts aloud. Her training had taught her that speaking out could bring a new perspective to old problems. Keeping things inside only made them burn hotter and never in the good, wholesome way. Besides, the only ones around were her and Allister, aside from Mimikyu in the living room; Bea poked her head around the corner.

“Hey…do you need me to get anything? I’m going out soon.”

“…kyuuuuu,” the Pokémon growled. Bea observed it huddled in the corner slowly sewing its busted disguise back together. Having it torn apart in matches came with the territory unfortunately. It always got in a mood after that but Bea understood. Having your one shield from the world cut away by the sword of exposure would put anyone in a bad state. Allister and Mimikyu both.

“I have to keep being the amazing big sister he believes I am. Perfect and unfaltering, the ideal he looks up to…a real role model. Am I…am I really all of that? Do I deserve having him look up to me like that?”

Bea might have been disciplined but that didn’t mean she didn’t have her own insecurities. Even if Allister’s outnumbered hers 10 to 1 she was still human.

I’m allowed to have feelings. Despite what my parents tried to drill into me. There is no shame…in showing how you feel.

No matter how many times she repeated it to herself at the end of the day it was just empty words. No oomph or drive to back them up. Hollow. Bea couldn’t bring herself to drop her guard in front of people it was just too ingrained.

Allister would admit to her that she was the only family he had, but in a sense the reverse was true as well. Allister was the only one she could really be herself around. Her whole thought process during his gym match this morning was a good an example as any.

Bea stomped her foot down in mild frustration, though not going as far as to bang her head on the kitchen table. Even letting Kabu see her smile was something incredibly tough for her and she found herself wishing it wasn’t this way.

There’s no shame in…ugh, why do I bother? Why am I thinking all of these things today? What’s gotten into me?

Bea shook her head, at a loss. People weren’t totally logical and could just feel things at random whether they made sense or not. She’d been so happy that her brother was taking to the gym as well as he was and now…she didn’t know. She was still happy, the issue wasn’t with him, just herself. Bea shook her head again; now wasn’t the time for self-reflection. Whatever this was could wait.

A burst of knocks at the door startled Bea back to her senses.

“That was decidedly quick. I suppose that’s why we use Corviknight’s in the taxi service.”

Bea opened the door, immediately being brought into an enormous hug by the woman outside. Not unexpected but the strength of the embraces always caught her slightly off guard. Her physique really shouldn’t have enabled it but clearly there were gaps in her knowledge.

“Bea, it’s so good to see you again!” Melony released her, wandering into the house of her own accord.

“Ms. Melony, it’s always good to have you here. Please make yourself at home.” Bea knew it was slightly redundant to say such a thing as Melony was always forward enough in her actions but the politeness was still something she felt obligated to do.

“Ohoho, my dear gym leader there’s no need for any of that y’know? Just ‘Melony’ will do as I always say ♪”

“…Of course.”

Kabu says the same. I still can’t help it.

“You’re not wearing your headband, honey. Special occasion?” Melony’s back was to her, instead browsing the photos that adorned the living room wall. Still the question was posited to her; Bea’s hand reflexively went to her hair, then let it drop slowly. She’d loved that headband.

“I…lost it. In the storm. It blew away in the winds.”

Melony immediately lost interest in the photos (though Bea noted her gaze lingering on the Galar gym leader photoshoot with Gordie), walking over to her.

“Oh but it looked so good on you!” Melony clasped her hands together, folding them. “Whatever were you out in that awfulness for?”

“Allister was stranded in Wyndon. With the trains and taxi not running I had to go on foot.”

“You’re saying that like it’s no mean feat! Well done to you!” Melony was already patting her on the head so Bea didn’t resist. It was exactly the sort of thing she did with Allister all the time so to be on the receiving end was always an experience. Not a bad one though.

“Thank you…Melony.”

“Heh, look at you trying to be informal. I appreciate that too.” Melony’s mouth opened to a wide grin. “You’re a tough cookie running out through the storm like that. Allister is lucky to have you!”

“He…yeah. I guess.” Melony noted her change in expression, even if it was hidden well. She had enough kids of her own to know when a person was holding back.

“You’re looking a little rough around the edges, Bea. Something on your mind? It isn’t just the headband is it?”

“I…” Bea met the older woman’s gaze. Calming yet discerning. Before she knew what was happening she was sitting down on the sofa next to Melony. “You’re here for Allister, not me. He needs you…”

Melony shook her head, still smiling. It was a different kind of smile now, more wistful.

“Honey, just because one of my kids gets ill doesn’t mean I don’t notice when another is feeling down. I’ve got time for you, you know that. I’ll always have time.”

It was things like that which made Bea hold the utmost respect for the other woman. She wasn’t just saying it either. Battling through a storm was one thing but having the emotional strength to be there when people need you most was far stronger in her eyes.

“Is that right?”

Bea jolted slightly, realising what had just happened.

“Did I…just say that out loud?” Melony nodded, encouraging her to go on. “It is true though. I don’t know…I do wonder how good I am for Allister. I…don’t ever say so to him because he doesn’t need that in his life right now. Maybe not ever. He needs a calm and strong big sister. I don’t know why these feelings are coming up now, I should be happy right? Alli just won his second gym match today and I definitely am happy for him. I’m really, really proud at how far he’s come and what he’ll go on to do.”

Melony hadn’t interrupted her once during her short monologue, and for that Bea was grateful. She could be strict but there was a certain kind of patience too. One earned from many years of hard slog and discipline that Bea had yet to master.

“Well honey, you wanna talk about progress I think you’ve made much more than you realise.”

“I…hmmm?”

“When I first met you, you tried your best to make me think you were made of stone. Having you be honest and open up to me is a victory in itself. Not just that but opening up and being honest to yourself is something not everyone can do. Gordie……he struggles with that too.”

“Oh…I’m sorry if I brought up some bad memories for you.”

“Hah!” Melony was grinning again. “Don’t think of it like that. We’re always going to have our differences, that’s plain as day, so don’t got worrying about that. If I’m going to be honest though I do worry about you, Bea. There’s an awful lot on your plate right now, same as your brother.”

“…”

“You know he thinks the world of you, right? He’d do anything for you when it comes right down to it.”

“I…know that. Of course I know that.”

“If you can’t convince yourself you’re gonna have a hard time convincing me honey.”

“…”

“It’s true you’re wondering about how much you’re doing for him and whether it’s enough, but I think your real fear is having him grow up and not need you anymore…”

“Enough!” Bea averted her eyes, pulling herself away. Even Mimikyu stopped briefly before continuing. “I…I’m sorry for shouting…but that’s enough.”

Melony always had a way with words. Perceptive to the point of cutting right down to the bone of any issue. Bea could see why someone with a temper, such as Gordie, would lose his cool over that.

“You’re thinking about Gordie, right? Hiding how you’re feeling manifests in different ways from person to person.” Melony sighed, slowly rising from the sofa and returning to look at the photos. “For him it was running away for 2 and a half years and travelling. For you…well your parents built you your own personal stone tower. Battlements, moat, the works. ‘Closed for entry’” She said, miming the air quotes with her fingers.

“…”

“I understand you, Bea, I really do. You think once Allister is ‘better’ he’ll leave you because he won’t ‘need you’. Right?”

“……………………………Yeah.” Bea scrunched up her eyes. Melony definitely did have a way with words. Bea hated, loathed even, thinking this way but she couldn’t help it. “It’s the one part of me I’m genuinely disgusted with. Allister is so much better with people than I am he just doesn’t realise it. When he’s ready I’m scared to lose him, I guess. I might be strong but so is a rock. A rock doesn’t make for a great friend if you don’t need to cling to one for support though. It’s just boring and useless.”

“If things were really like that then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You care, you’re a human just like everyone else, Bea. You’re allowed to have feelings.”

I’m allowed to have feelings. It’s good to hear someone else say it too.

“I…know. I know.” Bea let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Why are these feelings coming up now, Melony? Why am I feeling the way I am?” Melony shook her head, humming.

“Couldn’t tell you, honey. If I could then I’d be smartest person in the world. No one knows why anything happens when it comes to emotions. My guess is seeing Allister take to his position so quickly is something you hadn’t expected.”

“It’s true,” Bea admitted. “I’m so glad he likes it but it’s only his second match. I hope he isn’t getting carried away by the adrenaline.”

 “Heh, maybe.” Melony rested a finger on a photo of Allister and Bea at the park. Bea’s face impassive, Allister doing his best to hide in plain sight. “You’re the kind of person who lives and dies by routine, meditating and eating at the same times of day every day. Having the status quo change like that was a big shock to your system and you just didn’t realise it.”

“I…”

“And furthermore,” Melony continued, ignoring the attempted butt in with a practiced ease. “You were planning on bottling those feelings up and not sharing them with anyone. In your eyes there isn’t anyone you can share any of this with. It’s just you. Alone.”

“Melony…”

“Well honey, I’m hear to tell you that just isn’t true. You can talk to people about these sorts of issues. Milo would drop everything in heartbeat to come help and you know he would.”

He would. He has done.

“Nessa knows how these kind of things work. That girl she’s with, what’s her face…?”

“Sonia?”

“That’s the one. Professor’s granddaughter. Terribly insecure about living in her gran’s shadow so she knows exactly what it’s like to have feelings you can’t control, about things you think no one gets. Nessa might be an ice queen on stage but she’s got a good heart, helping Sonia like she does.”

“…”

“Kabu and I have been around the block a bit, Opal more than a bit ahaha. Between us we’ve seen and heard pretty much everything, honey. Feelings, relationships, kids, fights, the lot. We’ll always be there for you to turn to if you really need us. Even Opal isn’t that cruel to turn someone away who genuinely needs help.”

“…That’s good to hear. All of it.”

“You think Piers doesn’t know about holding back feelings for the sake of family? He never wanted to take on the gym and the kid blames himself for Spikemuth going down the toilet. Not on him, but he shoulders it all for his sister. Remind you of anyone?”

“I…” Bea tried to ignore the pointed look she was getting.

“And Raihan…well he knows how to deal with frustration and negativity better than anyone, losing to Leon at every turn. I’m sure if you spoke to him about what you’re going through he’d be a good shoulder to lean on.”

“I can’t just give my problems to others.”

“Giving and sharing are different.” Melony let her eyes drift back to the photo of the gym leaders gathered in front of Rose tower, the day of the tournament season’s beginning. Gordie at one end, herself at the other. Clicking her tongue, she took note of Bea and Allister at the front on account of their height. “We humans are social creatures, just like Pokémon are. Forgive me for speaking out of turn but…”

Bea hitched a breath. Melony seldom asked for permission to do with anything so whatever she was about to say was beyond serious.

“…I don’t think your parents were right to do what they did with you. They’ve confused you with being stoic and staying strong and a bunch of crap you just don’t need in your life.” Melony looked back to Bea, eyes closed again. “I can’t imagine trying to cut the heart out of one of my kids like that. I…I’m sorry I shouldn’t say things like that about your folks.”

“It’s okay. I can understand your point of view.” Bea opened her eyes again. She didn’t have any tears to give anyway. “I’m not saying I disagree with your views either, but it does me no good to think that way. The past is fixed and I have to deal with the me I am now. I think…I think if I focused on who I might have been if my parents were different it would destroy me from the inside. Maybe I wouldn’t even know Alli if that was true, so I’ve got to believe this was the best way. For me, and for him.”

Melony nodded slowly, coming away from the pictures and facing the fighting type leader head on.

“That’s very mature of you, Bea. Living in the past does no one any good and I’m hardly one to talk. I think about how things could have been different if Gordie and I got along better all the time. Doesn’t do me any good but I think about it all the same. That’s human as well.”

“Being human is a lot of things.”

“Well isn’t that the understatement of the year! Hey…” She lowered her voice slightly. “I’m genuinely sorry for what I said to make you snap at me. I just…”

“You just did it to make me start thinking properly, I know. I forgive you. You’re as blunt as they come and people trust you for it, me included.”

Another round of hair ruffling made Bea almost glad she’d lost her headband. Couldn’t very well have her hair played with with it in the way now could she?

“Bea, Allister won’t ever leave you. He really does think the world of you and it won’t change when he learns to find confidence in himself.”

“He…won’t?”

“He won’t,” Melony echoed. “He won’t suddenly forget all the times you stood by him when he was beaten down and out, all the times you were there for him when no one else could reach him, all the times you made sure he was okay when he didn’t even know he needed it. No, he’s going to look back on those times and appreciate them all the more and be so, so grateful you stuck by him when he thought he didn’t deserve it.” Melony waved her fist to the ceiling to emphasise the point further. “That you invested time and energy into him when he thought he was a lost cause. You’re not just his sister, Bea, you’re his damn hero and nothing will ever change that, you hear me? He wouldn’t trade you for anything in this world…ever.”

“I…sniff…thanks.”

“Are you…?” Melony hadn’t immediately realised it (and neither had Bea for that matter) but for the first time in a very very long time…Bea had started to cry.

“I’m fine…sniff…I’m just grateful.” Melony decided there and then that Bea had the most wonderful smile when she was being genuine. More radiant than any fire type, and maybe even enough to melt her entire team into mush. It was nothing short of beautiful.

“Oh honey, let me get you a tissue.” Of course, Melony always carried a pack or three at all times, which Bea accepted gratefully. So much for finding her brother’s nose blowing to be unsightly but she didn’t care.

“I really…sniff…needed to hear…sniff…that. Badly. Thank you, Melony. I wouldn’t trade Allister for anything or anyone in this damn world, I don’t care what’s on offer. He’s my brother…sniff…and I love him so…sniff…damn much.”

“Hey, those kind of thoughts were always in your head, y’know? They were just being clouded and buried by other, nastier ones that you didn’t have any control over. You letting loose is proof that hiding your emotions away isn’t a good thing, I hope you realise that.”

Sniff…Y-yeah, I get it…”

“Let me share a secret with you, Bea,” Melony whispered, leaning in. “That’s the power of opening up to someone.” Melony had never once heard Bea laugh before, so was more than a little surprised at the sounds passing the girls lips. It was definitely laughter though, and it was simply adorable.

“Simply adorable,” she reaffirmed. “When you laugh and smile I see the person you really are, Bea. Not this stuffy lump of playdough that you’ve been forced to imitate your whole life. I’d…well I’d be darn proud if you were my kid. Hope that isn’t going to far to say, but it’s true.”

“Melony,” Bea remarked, wiping her eyes dry with the rest of the tissue. “I’d be honoured if you were my mother. I think anyone would.”

“That’s so sweet of you! Aww c’mere!” This time Bea didn’t resist the hug; Melony was always the best at them, no hard bits just warm soft goodness that even a Stufful would be envious of. She’d always been taught that physical contact was for karate only, or the handshake afterwards but she was slowly starting to realise that simply wasn’t true. Contact made you more human, not less.

“Gordie’s honoured too, he’s just bad at showing it.”

“True, you two do have a lot in common with not being able to share your feelings.”

“…Definitely. I hope we both get better, for the family in our lives that we need.”

“Hey, family is all we got when it comes down to it.”

“…” Bea didn’t want to let go but decided enough was enough. She still wasn’t at the level she could appreciate the gesture fully without feeling awkward but progress was progress.

Same as I tell Alli. The little steps are no less important than the big ones. Practicing what I preach and not being a hypocrite is a good start.

“Thanks for getting me to open up, Melony. I…I really was just going to leave and keep everything to myself.

“I know honey and it’s okay. It’s all you’ve ever known really. I know you called me here to look after Allister but it doesn’t mean you don’t need a mom around either.”

“You’re everyone’s mother, Melony.” Bea let her hair continue to be stroked, vaguely wondering what Melony liked like without her hat on. She’d never actually seen her without it now that she thought about it. “How do you do it? I wish…I wish I had that kind of strength.”

“Shhh…none of that. You do, honey, you do. It’s inside you just waiting to come out. You’ll see.”

“Yeah…I will. I will!”

“That’s the spirit! Honestly,” the ice leader informed, “that’s my strength right there. Seeing people change for the better, however small. Knowing that you can do something to help someone who thinks they’ve got nowhere to go. It’s a great motivator.”

“…That’s very noble.”

“Ohoho, you say that but I my words weren’t empty, honey. I meant what I said about you having that kind of strength as well. After all haven’t you been doing exactly that with Allister? You’re his sword and shield.”

“Heh…just like the legendary Hero?”

“Exactly! Or maybe there’s two?” Melony stuck a finger to her cheek in thought. “No one’s really sure.” She waved the thought away. “Doesn’t matter, the point is that you’re what Allister dearly needs in his life, in the same way you need him. I won’t lie and say you won’t have your ups and downs but when it all comes down to it you’re his sister, even if you’re not blood related. You’re a better family than a lot of the people I see in Motostoke or Spikemuth. Only in it for themselves.”

“Yeah…it kinda makes me sad.”

“Me too. That they don’t have time to stop and think.” Melony pursed her lips. “You need to make time too, for yourself. Constantly worrying and planning for your brother takes a toll on you. You need time for yourself too.”

“Aha…I was putting off doing that as well before you came over.”

“Of course you were, honey, and not planning or telling me or anyone had I not insisted?”

“Yeah.” Bea didn’t want to say the look on Melony’s face was one of triumph but it definitely was.

“I’m glad you stayed. Not everyone does.”

Gordie. Unspoken but both thought it.

“I’m glad too. I…nearly didn’t. I was close.”

“Guess that stony discipline is good for something then, right?”

“Yeah. I…I still have a lot things I need to work through, don’t I?”

“You do.” Melony nodded. “If it was as easy as crying once and then you’re fixed I’d be out of a job quicker than a Ninjask race! Still…seeing you cry at all is proof of change. For the better.”

“It feels good. I…don’t think I can still do things like that in public and I’ll still have my guard up there. But here…in privacy…I think I’ll try and be a little more honest.”

“Just hearing you say that does me the world of good. I really needed to hear that today.”

“Is that why you…?”

“It is.” Melony grew pensive as Bea herself was prone to. “I’ll admit I needed some time away from the bustle of the house. My daughter can handle the triplets for a few hours, and it’s Gordie’s week in the gym so that’s covered. A change of scenery really clears the head.”

Ah, that explains it. Bea recalled the way the mother and son duo handled the gym was similar but different to how she and her brother did: Bea took the gym week days, barring Wednesday afternoons, and Allister took it Friday and the weekend.

Gordie and Melony on the other hand exchanged the gym week by week with no variation. They had minimal contact, not even being present when the keys were exchanged on Sundays. It was sad in Bea’s eyes, but it was the way things were right now.

Still if today was anything to go by then anything could change. Bea hadn’t thought it within herself to cry at anything, but a simple honesty session with Melony had brought that out clear as day. She was obviously more human than she thought she was, and that was good.

“Oh how is Allister anyway?” Melony was now looking at a portrait of Allister holding his official gym indoctrination later (signed by the chairman and secretary of course).

“Sleeping I should expect. If he has too much cereal it just sits in his stomach and slows him right down.”

“Gotcha. You can go get ready for his challenger if you want, I think I’ve got things covered here.”

“…I believe you.” Bea found herself smiling again as she gathered her Pokéballs from the kitchen counter. It was becoming a more common occurrence, but she knew that was good. Smiling was good. “Last chance, Mimikyu. Sure you don’t need anything?”

“Mimikyuuyu.” The cloth shook its head.

“Understandable.” Bea turned to the older woman, still enthralled by the many, many photos the wall had claimed as its own. “Melony, thank you for this. Really.”

“It was…”

“I know it was. You’re going to tell me how anybody could have done this and listened to me and gotten me to talk. Well…all the same I’m glad it was you. Thank you. I needed to hear not just myself but you too.”

“Bea, you’re a fine young woman already,” Melony assured, shaking her head. “Guidance is the only thing you really need and you’ve got the rest covered. Still, hearing you say that is very sweet and I’m glad I was able to help. Hey if you still have some steam to blow off today why don’t you challenge Gordie? I’m sure Allister’s challenge won’t be enough to satisfy and he’s in one of his moods. Might be good for both of you to go all out?”

“I’ll definitely consider it. Thanks again, Melony. There’s cocoa in the top cupboard by the sink if Alli asks for it, and soup in the fridge if he gets hungry again.”

“Shoo, don’t make yourself late ♪!” Bea wasn’t used to being hurried out of her own home but at this point she didn’t mind at all. Today was a good day indeed.

Unbeknownst to both Bea or Melony, Allister had fallen asleep nearly as soon as Bea had left the room. However having a somewhat loud conversation mere metres away from his bedroom let some of what was said sink in; dreams are funny things. You’re never sure exactly what you’re going to get or how to interpret it.

Allister’s dreams for the moment were filled with a headbanded figure, sword and shield in hand, fighting off the numerous evils that were trying to devour him.

You’ll always be my hero…even if you don’t believe it.

Though he was dead to the world, Allister’s body smiled all the same.

Today is a good day indeed.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Hey Mimikyu, you remember me right?”

“…Mim…” Allister’s Mimikyu continued ignoring Melony in favour of sewing. Melony didn’t blame it, poor thing.

“That sounds like a yes.”

Bea had only just left to deal with Allister’s challenger and Melony was doing her best to make herself at home; regular home was hectic now and Stow-on-Side was providing a much need calm for the weary mother of five.

“Not that Circhester isn’t peaceful,” the ice type specialist mused. “Objectively it’s the most peaceful place in Galar by a long shot. Still, this place has its charm too. Plus far fewer memories for me here.”

Wonder if it’s the same for Bea?

Melony’s heart really did go out for the girl.

Just a damn kid. Barely older than my eldest, supporting a family all of her own while my kids all have me to rely on.

Her eye was yet again drawn to the pictures on the wall. Bea always seemed to be doing her best to show no emotion at all in them. Even in her own private place where only Allister could see, she hid herself.

“Is she that worried about guests seeing her ‘show weakness’? Like I’m doing now?”

Melony tried to put it out of her mind and busied herself in the kitchen; she hadn’t heard Allister at all and for someone who was apparently ill with a cold it did make her worry. Of course, he’d probably just fallen asleep, just as Bea had told her.

“Still, what better way to wake up to than a nice cup of hot chocolate?”

Melony always found it useful to speak aloud, even when alone. Just habit. Living with three rowdy identical triplets, one daughter being pulled in all directions, and (previously) one moody, argumentative son did drum up quite the noise. Just hearing your own thoughts at all warranted a monologue.

Stir , stir, stir.

Many years of coughs, sniffles, and flu had allowed Melony to have the art of the perfect cup down to a science. Exactly thirty two seconds after the hot water was added did she begin the stir. Too fast and the flavour of the cocoa was lost to the water, too slow and everything became that much grainier.

Of course for someone like Allister she used half water and half milk to bulk it up. More palatable to a picky eater.

And calcium for healthy bones. If he’s anything like when we met the last time, he makes the sticks in my front yard look tough.

“I’m taking this to Allister. Don’t worry it’s just cocoa.”

Mimikyu perked up at the mention of its trainer’s name, but relaxed when Melony dipped the mug to its height and allowed it to peer into the murky chocolate goodness. She always found it good to let Pokémon know what was going on around them. Especially for a support Pokémon like Mimikyu.

Melony clenched her fist around the mug as she made her way upstairs. It made her equal parts sad and troubled that there were still people in the world who thought of Pokémon as mere tools.

That level of selfishness and bullheadedness…can people really be so blind? Even with efforts from the reformed Team Plasma Association, Pokémon were still considered second class citizens rather than partners in many parts of the world.

Melony did wish they’d change their name at least, the connotations of their predecessor’s actions did nothing for their image, if not publicity.

“Allister?” Melony knocked gently on the door with a Gengar poster blutacked to the front. Careful not to step on any creaking floorboards she slowly made her way inside, taking everything in that the room had to offer.

Asleep.

Allister lay on his side, mask precariously balanced on the duvet. His posture was almost a foetal position, curled up to conserve his warmth as he shivered.

He sleeps with it still on? Poor boy.

The room as a lot homelier than Melony had initially expected. Sure there were posters of various supernatural films from the last decade and more figurines of ghost types than real ghost types possibly existed in Galar, but the room itself was nice. Messy, but nice. The spare masks littering nearly every free surface didn’t help.

She did find the Litwick style candles to be cute touch, though. The whole room had a vaguely purple hue to it but she couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from. Maybe it was just like that? Whatever the reason Allister clearly liked it this way and Melony saw no reason to probe.

Melony set the cup down on the bedside table, clearing some clothes and spare mask to the chair across the room. There were already clothes and masks on the chair so she was sure it could handle another few. She frowned.

I knew he had a lot of masks but this is…oh honey.

Perhaps Melony had understated it when she’d first taking everything in but the masks truly were everywhere. There were even a couple slung over the bed posts.

She, like most people, had never ever seen what he looked like underneath. To her knowledge only Bea had managed that feat, but of course she was curious about it. Everyone was. The nosy mother within her was whispering that he’d never know if she took a peek. The mask he currently had on could slip at any time with him, rolled over as he was. The rational adult slapped the thoughts away with indignation.

The disgrace, you didn’t come here to violate a boy’s right to privacy. Especially when it’s so clearly tied to his identity.

“Mmmnnm.” Allister shifted slightly, tugging the blankets swaddled around him even closer. Even in his sleep he was shaking slightly.

“You poor thing,” Melony whispered slowly. “Illness doesn’t suit you at all.”

Her own kids were a lively bunch so colds didn’t tend to slow them down nearly as much…but Allister was near comatose by the looks of things.

“Your sister said you were only outside for 30 minutes or so. Said Oleana made sure you got a change of clothes…didn’t think that woman had it in her. Always pegged her for the flippant type. Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental of her and the chairman.”

“Mnnnnumm.” Allister stirred again, stronger this time. Melony quickly clapped a hand over her mouth in response.

“Sorry, I’ll be quieter!” She murmured. “Still…how you go exploring in the woods and come back healthy every time is beyond me.”

Melony took a deep breath in and sighed. She wrinkled her nose slightly, finding a hint of lavender amongst the room’s natural woody smell.

Aha. Lavender was often used as a calming agent in many home remedies. Her favourite bubble bath mix was definitive proof of that. You’re a smart kid, Allister. Having something like that around is great for nerves and panic attacks.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”

As the woman turned to leave she wasn’t sure what was more surprising: that her jumper was being tugged on, or that Allister had grabbed it without waking up.

“…’on’t…mnnngo.” It was barely audible but Melony certainly heard no one else speaking. She looked around, finding no one. “…mnhh…’lease.”

“Me?”

“…” The grip didn’t loosen.

“…I’ll stay. For you.” Melony hooked a foot around the leg of the desk chair and brought it forward so she could sit without Allister’s grip tugging any harder. Her bones weren’t getting any younger. “Are you hearing me in your dreams, Allister? Is that what you’re hearing?”

“S’good. S’nice.”

Melony couldn’t see anything of the boy’s face but got the sense that he was somehow content. His grip on her was very light, barely a featherweight. Hands oh so pale. Melony’s family line had many of the traits of albinism running throughout the generations and yet even they weren’t that pale. Melony ran her thumb over the back of his hand lightly. Oh so pale. Chalky even.

“You grabbing me…was that a reflex?”

Let’s think about it. If he grabs out then he’s used to someone being in his room when he sleeps. Bea’s the only one he lives with so that means it’s her, I’m just a stand in. Which means he’s prone to waking up and needing her. He hides himself away…but he doesn’t want to be alone. So…he has nightmares.

The conclusion her mothering instincts had brought her to wasn’t the most pleasant, and Melony pursed her lips. Nightmares were very common in younger children, as was needing a family member. What wasn’t as common knowledge was Allister’s family history.

Only the gym leaders and higher league officials knew it was Bea’s parents who’d adopted him at a young age. The circumstances behind it were a mystery but Melony’s instincts told her it had been...messy. The nightmares had to be specific enough for him to want Bea and not his support Pokémon.

Thus…his parents seemed a logical conclusion. Melony could feel her expression growing sombre, wanting to believe she was just extrapolating something from nothing. Just meaningless fetishization of a poor boy’s normal problems. She bit her lip, listening to his stilted breathing.

 Her instincts were seldom wrong; she’d foreseen the troubles with Gordie long before they’d blossomed spectacularly.

Backfired spectacularly more like. Melony thought bitterly. All that foresight and I still lost him. Lost us both in that stupid, stupid fight. I shouldn’t be reading between the lines with Allister. What am I, trying to make up for my lack of planning with my own kid? Really Melony you should have more…respect for him than that. For yourself.

Allister had relaxed considerably with something (or rather someone) to hang on to. His breathing was becoming deeper and Melony almost wondered if he was slipping further under. She stayed as she was for a good 10 minutes, stroking the back of his hand all the while. Even when her back began to protest at the position she was in she didn’t yield.

Honestly it was rather peaceful. The purple aura, the wood and lavender mixing together in a perfect olfactory harmony; Melony felt content as she was. Alas, fate was not that kind and an unexpected coughing fit saw Allister’s body remind itself that it was indeed ill.

 He jolted upright, flailing wildly as his blocked nose prevented him from gasping for air.

“GAAAAAHHH??!” Allister leapt back, hitting his head on the back wall when he realised he wasn’t alone.

“Sorry, honey, maybe I should’ve…?”

“Mismagius, go!”

“What the…?!”

His eyes wild, from under the duvet Allister had pulled out a duskball, summoning a ghostly apparition in a witch’s hat.

“D-disable the intruder with t-thunderwave! DO IT!”

“Frosmoth, protect us both!” With lightning fast reflexes that could only be earned after a long history of battling, Melony released her Frosmoth. The barrier was only just in time as the attack connecting, enveloping the room in a yellow glow.; the bulbs in both the side lamp and ceiling light both promptly short-circuited.

With the peace disrupted Allister backed himself into the corner, putting his pokemon between Melony and himself; she noted he was hugging his knees, rocking himself almost. When the glow had died down, Melony spoke, trying to keep her voice level.

“Breathe Allister. I’m a friend. I’m a friend…breathe for me. Bea sent me to look after you while she’s out. You’re safe here, I promise. I’m a friend.”

Allister’s eyes were unfocused, like a Bunnelby caught in the headlines.

“…Friend?”

“Friend.” Melony nodded warmly, though her Frosmoth picked up the subtle cue to be ready to protect again should it be needed. The Mismagius hovered silently, eyeing the other Pokémon warily.

“………MY MASK!” In the rush of it all Allister hadn’t realised that his mask had fallen away, landing on the carpeted floor with a soft ‘plat’. Melony hadn’t realised it either but got no further possibility for observation as Allister launched himself past her chair to the end of the bed. He grabbed at a hanging mask, fumbling with the strap like a boy possessed.

He really doesn’t like to be seen, does he? Whatever it is…it can’t be just anxiety can it?

“Bea sent me, Allister. Don’t you remember that? Breathe for me…please, honey.”

“…Sniff…” The reason for why he’d suddenly snapped awake had caught up to him, and the adrenaline faded as quickly as it had come. Another fit of coughing overcame him and Allister began to shake even harder.

Oh crumbs don’t throw up in bed! Allister started when he felt Melony begin to rub circles on his back but quickly relaxed when he remembered what Bea had told him.

Oh…right. I got real carried away there.

“I…*cough*…remember.”

“You remember?” Melony echoed, keeping one eye on the opposing Pokémon.

“Y-yeah.” Slightly more confident that his new mask was affixed properly, Allister turned to face her. “I-I…I t-thought…sniff…”

Wish my voice didn’t stutter all the time with strangers.

“It’s alright,” the woman encouraged, still rubbing circles on his back. “You take your time now. Breathe deep…and let it flow.”

Allister took that to last part to heart, trying to get his ragged breathing back to some form of normalcy. His breaths were usually shallow enough anyway but with the cold blocking his nose it was a genuine struggle to even breathe at all.

“Drink some of the cocoa. It’ll help, trust me.” It was less of a command and more of an encouragement but it was firm enough for Allister to turn in the direction Melony’s finger was pointing. “On the bedside table.”

“R-right…yeah.”

“It’s hot, honey, don’t go too fast.”

Allister had clearly heard as his initial reaction to gulp the sugary liquid down was stifled by the realisation that a burn to his mouth would definitely not be the best idea.

“S’good…really, r-really good.”

“You’re very welcome, honey.”

“…I don’t…remember how it…g-got there?”

“I made it for you before I came up. You were asleep so I set it there.” Melony waved her arms around noncommittally before a grin overtook her. “Then that whole thing happened and here we are.”

Allister did his job of making himself as small as possible. It was as if he’d already managed to put the experience out of his mind somehow.

His coping mechanism is to forget. Even recent things…his mind shields him from painful experiences.

“O-oh…yeah I thought…” He cleared his throat. “I thought you’d b-broken in o-or…something. I didn’t…um…recognise you…sniff…r-right away.”

“But you recognise me now?” He nodded sheepishly.

“O-of course! Mismagius, return.” The Pokémon nodded, before disappearing in a flash of light. “You’re Ms. Melony…Circhester gym leader. Bea…um…told me you were gonna come.” The boy held his head in his hands, trying to fold himself smaller still. “……A-and I t-totally forgot! Geez, I’m so, so sorry for a-attacking you! It’s um…”

“Say no more, honey,” Melony soothed, recalling her own Pokémon silently. “And just Melony is fine.”

“M-Melony I’m *cough* s-sorry!”

“When you wake up you’re bound to be disoriented. Having someone you don’t normally see in your room must be frightening! You poor thing!”

Allister seemed conflicted by the whole exchange.

“B-but…I…you…how were you so quick??”

“Heh, years of practice.” Melony eyed Allister’s duskball, now resting next to him on the duvet. “Still…you were pretty quick on the draw yourself. Someday you’ll be an even greater trainer than you are now, that’s for sure. I never expected you were hiding him under there!””

Melony saw no reason to let the young boy know that whipping her pokéball out at the speed she’d had to had hurt considerably.

My shoulder is a small price to pay for paralysis protection. Kids got guts.

“H-her,” Allister quickly corrected. “Bea said so…plus Mismagius told me so too. I always sleep with a pokéball in case I get s-scared.”

That was a lot of information to digest so Melony pulled her chair up closer, taking Allister’s cup from him and placing it back on the bedside table.

“So…you said Mismagius told you it’s gender?”

“Mmhmm. Jus’ polite really.”

“You can speak to Pokémon?”

“Nah, ghosts only. Lucky, what with them bein’ the best type n’ all.”

Melony gave a wry smile. She couldn’t even be offended he was so earnest. Had Gordie cockily told her that the rock type was the best then that was grounds for another fight. On a bad day anyway.

“And Bea got you her?” Allister nodded, uncurling himself and flopping back down to face the ceiling. “I should have guessed, you don’t find many Mismagius’s around here.”

“You’ve…seen them before?”

“When you’re my age and starting to collect dust, honey, you get to see a lot of things.” Melony leaned over and placed her hand gently on Allister’s shoulder, expecting him to flinch or pull away. He did neither, even leaning back into her palm of his own accord. “Something I don’t see all that often in people is the dedication your sister shows toward you.”

“Mhmmm,” Allister hummed listlessly. “She’s the best…sniff…big sis anyone could ever have…n-not just for me.” He turned to face the older woman slightly. “What’d I ever do to…deserve her? She does a lot…all I end up doing…is taking.”

With a practiced mask of her own, Melony did her best to hide how deeply the words had touched her. Knowing what she did now about how what Bea had said and ultimately how Bea saw herself was a sucker punch she didn’t need.

But…she was invariably right and Allister really didn’t need that sort of pressure on his already weakened shoulders.

“You know Bea would do anything for you, right?”

“Heh…Miss Oleana said something like that. Even made me hot chocolate too. You two are pretty alike.” He cleared his throat again. “B-but yeah. I do.”

“Then…” Melony chose her words carefully, stowing the information on Rose’s secretary away for later. “You’ll also know that she needs you just as much as you need her, right?”

“Nah.” The usually anxious Allister hadn’t even hesitated before saying that, and Melony’s heart tore further. “She’s so strong…c-composed. I know she…cares about me…and all…but she doesn’t need me like I need her. I really do just feel like a thorn *cough* in her side a lot of the time.”

“Well she did tell me that she wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world.” Melony tried to make the comment as offhand and natural as possible. Like it had only just come to her. Allister wormed his body into the covers in response.

“She really said that?” He seemed to tense at the thought. “Like about me?”

“Sure she did, Honey. Said you were the only brother she could ever imagine by her side.” A paraphrase but it got the point across.

“Y-you sure you didn’t mishear? She probs meant Hitmontop or something…hah…”

“She was pretty clear, don’t you worry yourself. She…” Melony was cut off by an almighty sniff.

“She lost her headband…sniff…because of me. She loved that headband.” Even without the cold having its unwavering grip over him his voice sounded small.

Oh so small.

“Where did come from?” It was half polite conversation, and half curiosity but Melony wasn’t sure which side of her had decided to ask. Allister had mumbled out a response, near inaudible as he pressed his face yet further into the blankets.

“Parents,” he let out, once prompted. “Only thing she…wears from them. Hair in her eyes, a-all that.”

“Well…maybe you can get her another?” The idea was simple and dumb, so much so that Allister let out a mirthless laugh. A laugh which soon turned into another coughing landslide, Melony directed him towards the cocoa a second time.

“S-stupid rain…stupid cold. Stupid me.”

That really wasn’t a path Melony could see Allister going down and coming back unharmed. She could feel the gears turning in her head as an idea began to formulate; a Klingklang would’ve been jealous no doubt.

“Not stupid, honey. Think about it. If she lost one and you want something to give her to show you’re grateful and all, then there’s no better present. With Christmas coming up soon you won’t have a better opportunity.”

The scope of her own genius was too much to bear and Melony could feel herself starting to grin as the boy on the bed rolled himself towards her, humming.

“That…” Allister paused. “…Isn’t the worst idea…ever.”

Oh to be young and impressionable.

“She’ll appreciate it dearly,” Melony continued, eager to not let the spark die out. She was quickly learning that Allister’s personality predisposed him towards negativity, ignoring all the good the world had to offer. “A gift of her favourite thing, from her favourite brother? She probably won’t stop smiling until the new year!”

The words continued to have the desired effect, Allister beginning to bounce his leg slightly. A sure sign of excitement in someone with more energy than they realised.

“Y-yeah! She *cough* will! I know she’ll…love somethin’ like that!”

“That’s the spirit! I know you’ll get something she’ll love.”

“Mmhmmm…” Allister said nothing more, content to hum to himself as his mind ran through the possibilities.

Another one with an orange stripe? Nah that’s too similar. Not too different though or it won’t work.

Melony left him to his own devices as he explored the different avenues, providing input when directed to. It was nice. Simple.

I needed this break.

“Hey Melony…?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Um…” The rest of what Allister had asked was lost to the fabrics of the bed. They were good confidants, as confidants went. They’d never spill a secret no matter what.

“You’re going to have to speak up, honey. I don’t bite, promise!”

He clearly thought otherwise, despite his apparent relaxation.

“It’s…um…personal is all. Curious.”

“…Then I’ll try and answer as best I can,” the ice leader added carefully. This did little for the boy’s confidence, and though his face was hidden Melony could see him psyching himself up.

“……WhowonthefightyouandGordiehad?”

“…What?”

Allister grabbed at his pillow, plunging his face deep into its homely quarters. Another round of coughing and it was going in the wash with everything else he’d touched.

“S-sorry. Bit personal…s’ jus’ curious. ‘Bout you and Gordie.”

“Ah.” Melony supposed that made sense. Bea was unlikely to have told him the details behind Gordie’s…holiday.

Still using that word for it am I? It’s been over a year since he got back, just call it what it is.

Melony exhaled, removing her hat for once. Allister found himself peeking out from behind the pillow just a bit, then more, until he finally let it drop.

“Y-you have very nice hair!”

Melony couldn’t be mad at the honesty, smiling gently despite her heart’s turmoil.

“Thank you, Allister. That’s nice.”

“It’s…” He searched for the word internally, but nothing took the bait. “Snowy, I guess.”

“Hah…fitting for me then right, honey?”

“Heh, y-yeah.” Allister had gone back to pretending the pillow had all the answers. A rhythmic squeezing of Farfetch’d feathers and linen in perfect harmony.

“……………….” Melony wasn’t sure where to begin. Truthfully there hadn’t been a definitive start to the problems her and Gordie had had to endure. It had just crept up on them over time, eating away at their lives until it was already hollow. Hollow and too late.

“Um…you don’t have too. Jus’ that Bea never told me, d-despite…you…sniff…both bein’ great trainers.”

“…I remember being your age, Allister.” Melony rested her chin on her hands, relegating her hat to the confines of her front pocket. “Seeing the world in black and white like that. When things were as simple as ‘who won’ and whatnot.”

“Huh?”

“Honey, as soon as the both of us decided to stop listening to reason and figured that fighting was the only way…then we both lost.” Melony let her hands drop to her sides, leaning back in the chair. “Point of no return on that road in our lives.”

“O-oh…okay. S’making sense I guess.”

“It’s alright to be curious,” she assured. “When Gordie left our whole town was split in two. Our mistake of not listening to rational thoughts didn’t just affect our own lives. The lives of everyone in Circhester was changed because of us.”

Look at me lecturing. It’s not like either of us had any more maturity than the next person. Here on my high horse, looking down. Shameful really.

“Ah, you don’t want to listen to an old woman’s tales do you?”

Allister nodded emphatically.

“Course I do!” He began to fidget with his top slightly. “ ‘N you’re not old, right? Opal’s old, you’re like…middle aged or somethin’.”

“Ohohoho, honey, you do flatter me! Thank you! So young and you already know how to treat a lady.”

“…” Allister seemed abashed at the statement and Melony’s instincts kicked in again. She knew that look from when her eldest got home school, all dreamy and spaced out.

“You have someone in mind?”

Allister flapped his arms in response, as if to fly away from the embarrassment at being caught.

“S-shhhh! B-bea d-doesn’t know.”

Melony almost wished she could’ve swapped places with the pillow; clearly he was used to confiding in it more than an actual person. The way he pressed his face to it, like he wished he could be sucked away to another world.

He’s incredibly anxious.

“…You don’t have to tell me. It’s clearly something big if you haven’t told Bea yet.”

“N-no…maybe it’ll be good? To…um…tell someone?” He was looking at her for reassurance now, so of course her heart went out for him.

“Of course, Allister. I’m here, breathe alright?”

“Y-yeah.”

Breathing was something in short supply for the time being but Allister did his best to keep himself in check. He was already lightheaded and warm, anymore inputs and he was going out like a light again.

“So, who is she?” Melony directed him towards the remainder of the cocoa, if nothing else then to give him more time to breathe.

“Online friend,” he admitted between gulps. “S-started a couple months ago…Bea was telling me that makin’ friends was a good idea. B-but…um…” Allister downed the rest of the liquid, not wanting to be patient any longer. “I didn’t have any friends…at school.”

“I understand, honey. School can be scary, and not everyone is nice. Kids can be mean.”

Melony frowned. Her youngest was going through a similar thing, not finding his place yet. He would, she reassured herself, he would. It just took time.

“Y-yeah…they used to steal m-my mask and books.” He looked her dead in the eye. “Y-you didn’t see, did you? When…I wasn’t wearing it…for the couple of seconds earlier?”

“I didn’t,” Melony answered truthfully. With everything else that was going on during the altercation she hadn’t even noticed until he’d whooshed on past and gotten another one.

“G-good. I’m…weird like that.”

“You can be ‘weird like that’, you’re allowed. I cut my toast into squares instead of triangles!”

“B-but…that’s wrong! Tastes odd if it isn’t in triangles,” he muttered, as if another memory was bugging him.

“I do it anyway,” Melony confirmed, nodding. “Just works better for me. If wearing a mask works better for you then that’s okay too, honey.”

“Huh…never thought of it like that…” He cleared his throat again. “B-but yeah, I was…um…bullied pretty bad. Took sis goin’ in and givin’ a talk at the school about…bullying and fighting types. Scared p-people right off!”

Melony had to smile at that.

“Wish I could’ve seen that. I’m sure your sister is very scary when she’s mad.”

 “Heh y-you’ve got no idea.” “Milo and Nessa were there if you wanna know.” He seemed happy, proud almost, but the whole statement was tinged with sadness. “B-but I still got no friends there. Now people are s-scared away from me because of that.” He quickly held up his hands in defence. “B-but that’s cool! I’ll t-take that…over gettin’ slammed into lockers and gettin’ bruised. ‘Sides I don’t need people if I got Bea and ghost Pokémon!”

“So you started looking online because school wasn’t being kind to you?”

“…Yeah. That’s…” Allister tried and failed to come up with a decent response. “That’s n-not weird right?”

“No weirder than Gordie liking his toast cut into circles.”

“Oh c’mon! That’s w-way weirder!”

“There you go, honey. You just convinced yourself.”

Allister stopped his fidgeting, cocking his head slightly.

“O-oh…guess I did. Thanks…”

“It’s alright, just remember you’re allowed to do things without fear of retribution. You’re your own person.”

“I know, t-thanks.” Allister lay back on the bed, stretching himself out as he drew the covers back around him. “I g-got…distracted. Sorry…”

“It’s alright, background details give me…a good idea of how things are.”

Allister getting his arm bruised from being shoved into lockers being ‘how things are’, or were, gets me angry. What sort of parents let their kids hurt another so viciously? I’d sooner not have kids then let them strike another for fun!

“Yeah…s’ppose. Anyway…” Melony hadn’t realised her hat had fallen out of her pocket until she noticed Allister absentmindedly thumbing over it. It seemed to be calming him so she saw no reason to disrupt the activity, odd as it was.

Circular toast, Melony. Circular toast.

“Decided to look into some ghost forums, find some like-minded people or somethin’.”

Melony nodded but said nothing. It was a good idea as ideas went.

“Most of them were bunk, weird posers who were jus’ after money or attention. B-but…” Allister went to sniff again, but thought better of it, reaching for a tissue in the interim.

Melony hadn’t said anything so far about the sniffing habit but was glad he’d realised that it hadn’t actually been doing him any good.

Better out than in.

“…Well, I f-found someone I liked. Didn’t think that was p-possible!”

“Many things are possible even when we don’t believe them. Life’s like that, honey.”

“Y-yeah, I get that now. She’s into ghosts, has her own Mimikyu…and she’s e-even a gym leader, kinda.”

“Oh? Kinda?”

“She’s Alolan, they don’t have gyms there. Trial captain b-but she’s just become an Elite 4 member too!”

“Wow! Impressive!” Melony’s knowledge of Alola was almost entirely of what Gordie had told her when he’d returned, having spent a few months there whilst travelling. That and the omnipresent nature documentaries on TV. “So what’s her name?”

“Acerola,” Allister said shyly. He was hugging her hat to his chest now, like he’d been doing with the pillow earlier. “We haven’t even…video chatted yet. Been too scared, aha.” He gestured to his face at the raise of Melony’s eyebrow.

“Ah, I get it, honey. You could just chat with her with it on, you know?”

Surprisingly, Allister shook his head.

“I gotta show m-my face sometime.”

“Are you worried she won’t accept you wearing one?”

Allister nodded, hitting the back of his head on the pillow in frustration.

“I haven’t told her I wear one…at all. Got scared. Thought it would freak her. She sounds so cool bein’ an Elite 4 member…I can’t compete with that.”

Melony pursed her lips, confused. She hadn’t even been aware that Alola had its own Elite 4 before now. From what she knew it was just the trial captains, Kahunas, and that was it.

“It must be a new thing, their Elite 4. If you’re worried she’s out of your league just because of a title, then remember you’ve got one too.”

“Elite 4 members are s-supposed to be stronger than g-gym leaders…s’what I heard.”

“Maybe in other regions.” Melony patted Allister’s head lightly, gauging his reaction. When he made no move to pull away she started running her fingers through it slightly, as she would with her own kids. “But here we do things differently. We have the Champion Cup instead, so we can’t judge our strength by other place’s rules. For all we know the Alolan Elite 4 could all be really weak!”

“Heh, that’d be kinda f-funny. The Elite 4…bein’ awful trainers. Sounds like a t-terrible TV comedy or something’!”

“Indeed!” Melony let her face go back to serious. “But this Acerola, if she’s really as nice as you say she is then she won’t mind at all what you look like. She’ll just be happy to have another friend, the same as you.”

Allister stared at his hands holding them up in front of his face.

“…The same…as me?” He locked his fingers together.

He’s imagining them holding hands? That’s just the sweetest thing!

Allister let his hands drop, then quickly separated his hands as he noticed the hat on his lap for the first time.

“O-oh, s-sorry! I dunno…how I even g-got this!”

“It’s alright, honey. You were having fun with it. Cute really.” In response Allister buried his face in his hands.

“Aww geez, that’s embarrassing. Here.” He handed the hat back, looking in the opposite direction to Melony. The wall had a lot to offer anyway, like the pillow.

“Thank you, Allister.” Melony placed the hat back on her head, tucking the excess hair under it in a single swift motion.

“Um…is it okay for you…t-to…t-touch it like that? I mean…” He rolled back to face her again. “Germs ‘n all.”

“I haven’t had a cold in over thirty years, Allister. When you train with ice types for as long as I have things like colds and flu bounce right off me!”

You do seem pretty bouncy.

Allister decided to keep that remark to himself. He was hardly one to talk about weight, being so vanishingly far down the other end of the spectrum it hurt. At least with fat you could sit anywhere and be alright. Whenever he sat down somewhere unfamiliar he had to spend a good minute adjusting himself.

Bony. Wonder if Acerola is bony? Or maybe she actually has a body which you can turn sideways and not have vanish into the ghost dimension?

“I’m planning to t-tell Bea soon, promise. I think she knows I’m keeping somethin’ from her. Don’t want her worryin’ for nothing.”

“You don’t have to promise me anything, honey. You can promise to yourself though if you’d like.”

“Yeah…that’s a better…idea.” Allister blew into the tissue again, tossing it off of the bed and near to the bin. Not in, but near enough to be considered a decent effort.

“Jus’…want everything to work out.”

“It will, honey. I’m not in the business of making grand promises about anything, but it really seems to me that all the pieces are here for a success story.”

“Y-you really think so?”

The hopefulness laced within those few words had Melony’s heart wanting to escape the confines of her chest all over again.

“I sure do. Bea will be so proud of you making a friend, I’m certain!”

“Y-yeah…I hope so…”

They stayed in silence for another few minutes. Eventually Melony took it upon herself to conclude their earlier conversation. Leaving things hanging was a sure-fire way to breed misunderstandings, she knew as much from experience.

“So…that answer your question for you, honey? We got slightly side-tracked but I’m glad we did. You wanted to know about me and Gordie, did you get what you wanted?”

“…Yeah.”

Melony looked up, not anticipating the response.

“Oh?”

“I get it, a l-little. I think.” Allister tossed the pillow aside, crossing his legs under the covers. “We all got secrets we don’t wanna say. Whatever happened, it’s complicated. Like how Bea feels about her parents or me not sayin’ anything about Acerola yet, or h-how I feel about myself a l-lot of the time.”

“…”

“None of us have to tell anyone anythin’ we don’t want t’. Even t-talking ‘bout things we have inside doesn’t always help if we dunno what to say. Right?”

“In a sense. That’s a fine way to look at it, honey.”

“I…um…” Allister was psyching himself up again if the fidgeting was anything to go on. “I get mad…sometimes. At m’ sis. She’s jus’ trying to keep me safe…b-but I go crazy! She asks things I c-can’t always answer…”

“Honey…”

“B-but I know she’s just concerned is all. So t-then…I get even more mad. At myself. G-get afraid she’ll want t’ leave me or somethin’. G-get a different brother who’s not a weirdo.”

“Bea worries about losing you too.” Melony had said it before she realised what she was doing. So much for not letting him know yet but in her mind it was the only thing she could possibly say to cut Allister off.

“…W-what?”

“She does.”

“B-but why? What c-could she ever be afraid of? She’s so strong!”

Melony scrunched her eyes up, disguising the gesture by bringing her arm up as if to scratch an itch.

Is this right?

“She…worries…when you get older…that you won’t want to be around her.” Melony rephrased what Bea had said as best as she could. It wasn’t a direct one to one, the definite article wasn’t something that could be easily replicated.

I still can’t believe she cried. Though if she was ever going to, it would be over her brother wouldn’t it?

“T-that’s crazy talk!”

Though the words were full of energy Allister himself hadn’t moved all that much in response. Just a slight shift towards the window. Like the notion he wouldn’t ever want to be around his sister was just crazy to the point of not even sparing it a thought. In a way, perhaps it was.

“After all Bea’s done for me, all the…c-crap she’s had to put up with I w-wouldn’t leave her! Crazy talk…”

“Hey…don’t tell that to me.” Melony sighed, letting a warm smile cross her face. “While I’m more glad than you can know to hear you say that…I think your sister is the one who needs to hear that more than anyone.”

“T-then I’ll tell her…when she gets home today.” Allister had rolled to face the wall completely by now and Melony knew that tone. The tone of a boy who’d made up his mind.

“A good idea, Allister. A very good idea.”


“You…you didn’t just bring Raticate to your gym battle, did you?”

It wasn’t often that Bea was completely and utterly miffed by something but the battle that had just taken place had earned its rightful spot.

“Aww what?!” The challenger recalled the defeated Pokémon to a lukewarm applause. Bea could a couple of ‘yeahs’ being thrown around but they were half-hearted at best.

“Gym Leader Bea is the winner! A shockingly quick match everyone, that has to be one for the history books!”

Bea gave credit where it was due, the announcer was trying their best to inject some energy into the lifeless stadium. It wasn’t as if she’d just curb-stomped this teenager’s team into the ground in under a minute, Pokémon changes included.

Even the crowd is disappointed. Usually they get hyped up for just about anything.

The challenger seemed frustrated, throwing their hat down. Perhaps it would be understandable if they had more than 2 Pokémon on their side.

“I can’t believe I lost like that! I was supposed to be the best!”

“Yeah…that’s…surprising.”

“I know!!! I mean…”

“No I mean it’s surprising you made it past any of the gym trainers.” Bea couldn’t help but cut him off. Delusion was the opposite path to discipline after all, and not one that was easy to get off of without a degree of severity.

“They were all using ghost types!” The teen frowned, like he’d somehow been wronged. “Both of my Raticates know Crunch! I only challenged this gym because I thought it was the ghost one, not a fighting one.”

So that’s how. All of Allister’s gym trainers are here today instead of mine because it was supposed to be his match. Bea shook her head.

“Relying on type match-ups will only get you so far. If you want to become truly strong you’ll have to break through that mentality by training harder.”

“But my Raticate…” The teen fell to his knees, hitting his fist against the grassy floor lightly. Bea honestly felt a little embarrassed on his behalf, not sure where to look. “…they’re both in the top percentage of all Raticate! I even went to Alola to get one so its Crunch would be even stronger!”

“…Well you have dedication, challenger Joey, that’s plain to see.” Bea held out her hand to pull him up; thankfully the teen accepted it. Any further escalation just wouldn’t have been fun to deal with. “Just…not in the right areas.”

“Hah, just you wait! One day people will appreciate the strength my Pokémon have!”

“I look forward to it.” A genuine statement, Bea was definitely curious as to why todays challenger had such a love for the Rat Pokémon. If he stayed on his current path he was going to continue his plateau of mediocrity, but if that was what he thought was best then Bea had no choice but to accept.

She frowned as she watched him walk off of the pitch. That hadn’t been nearly as satisfying as she’d hoped it would. Usually challenger battles took at least 10 minutes for the quick ones. The crowd clearly shared her sentiment, leaving quieter than Bea thought possible.

Well, guess I’m taking up Melony’s offer then. It’s been a while since I’ve fought Gordie.

Now THAT was a way to get her blood pumping again! Bea signalled to the announcer that she had something to say, prompting a burst of static.

“Hold on there, folks, it looks like Gym Leader Bea isn’t quite ready to let you all go yet! What could she have to say? Ooooh the anticipation! Hopefully something exciting after the speed of her last battle! Or will she continuing blazing ahead?!”

“Hey everyone!” Bea shouted, pressing her fingers to her dynamax band. “If you want a really good time I’m planning to challenger Gordie’s gym in Circhester today. I’ll give you hour to get there, before we show him what Stow-on-Side is really made of! Who’s up for that?”

The roar of approval was deafening, so Bea took that as a yes. People who were born in a certain area did always have a special attachment to their gyms after all. It was beyond a tradition, a heritage almost.

“Whoa!!!” The announcer was genuinely upbeat now, the image of Ballguy on the flatscreens imitating a happy dance. “An exhibition match between two of the fiercest gym leaders in Galar?! Count us in, Bea! Take a lunch break, or take a leak, but be in Circhester in an hour if you want to see a clash of the titans, folks!”

Another hiss of static and the announcement ended, but the crowd chant was back in full force. Bea wouldn’t admit that she liked the busy atmosphere of it all but it was infectious. It always had been, right when she’d first stepped in the Stow-on-Side gym.

I can feel myself getting fired up. Remember, confidence is fine, but it’s a breeding ground for mistakes. Don’t get carried away.

The cynical part of her mind told her that it never did Piers any harm to blurt out his tactics all the time. She consistently lost to him despite that, and despite the type advantage too. Bea put it out of her mind.

Right now my target is Gordie. Focus on that. I’ll beat Piers one day. I’ll beat everyone someday.

Bea closed her eyes, breathing deep.

It’s okay to be moved by battle, as long as I’m immovable during.

Her eyes snapped open, clutching her pokéballs tightly.

“Right then, Gordie. Let’s see what you’re made of this time!”  

 

Chapter Text

“No hard feelings when I win.”

Bea hadn’t been sure what she expected when she texted Gordie to let him know she was challenging him. The message her Rotom phone was displaying seemed par for the course honestly; cocky, confident, but no bragging and straight to the point. That was Gordie to a T.

She didn’t bother replying, preferring to let the battle speak for itself. That was what he was expecting from her anyway. Despite her type advantage she only had 4 wins to his 3, and it was always a sobering thought.

Not that I ever drink. There’s enough to cloud the human mind without external influences.

The Corviknight taxi was nearly to Circhester now judging by ever thickening blanket of snow that was wrapping its arms over the ground. Bea found herself half wishing she’d dressed up warmer, but a good battle was better than any jumper in her book.

And if that Sinnohan gym leader can walk through the snow barefoot then so can I.

Even so, at this altitude Bea couldn’t help but shiver; she wrote it off as a shiver of anticipation. Gordie was not someone to take lightly, and apparently he wasn’t in the best of moods already according to what Melony had told her.

There was a reason his gym (or rather Melony’s, with his rotation worked in every other week) was higher than Stow-on-Side’s. Strength in the face of adversity. Bea knew she had no excuses for not wiping the floor with the rubble of his rock types. They should all crumble under her fighting spirit, but if anything he was the closest thing she had to a real rival.

Even Melony, using the traditionally defensively weak ice types gave her significantly more trouble than seemed logical.

What is it about the two of them that stops me from crushing them? It’s not like I don’t train. Do they train more?

Melony did have experience on her side, having the Circhester gym for the last two decades but Gordie was only a few years older than her and yet…

This time I’ll win definitively. No more close calls or ‘technical victories’ for me. I’ve got enough energy from that last battle to level a mountain. Level a mountain is exactly what I plan to do.

She’d gotten her best team for this occasion, once again ignoring the Nurse Joy’s pursed lips as she tracked dirt into the Pokémon centre. Her team had to be perfect, and she’d apologised so there was no more too it.

Bea could feel the Pokéballs on her training belt humming in excitement too. Pokémon were influenced by their trainer’s feelings, that much had always been clear.

Soon, guys. We’ll put on a show that’ll blow Circhester away.

Exhibition matches between leaders weren’t as common as one might think. Between challengers and League conferences the time to ‘relax’ as the Chairman called it, was a rarity. Going all out against gym challengers wasn’t really approved of outside of the Champion Cup so it was no wonder her team was as itchy as she was.

Is that really the word? Itchy? Bea looked down at her palms. She was shaking, but whether from the chill or excitement was still unclear. Time would soon tell as her taxi touched down outside of the bath houses.

“Thanks, Corviknight. I’m glad you don’t feel the cold.”

“Caaaaw!” The bird was already gone, no doubt used to the praises and platitudes by now.

The snow was a shock to her feet, but Bea wasn’t about to be defeated before even making it to the gym and pressed onwards.

Despite Christmas nearly upon them, Circhester didn’t look a whole lot different; an ethereal winter wonderland with soft lighting and jolly people. The candy canes hanging from the telephone exchanges were a nice touch, Bea noted. Everything was just that bit more festive.

Gordie was already inside, as was expected. Bea wasn’t oblivious to the fact he had a significant home ground advantage, as even with the Stow-on-Side residents she’d roused into making the trek her fans were still outnumbered 3 to 1.

She could deal with the booing if things swung her way, but it would still sour her mood none-the-less. Bea kept having to remind herself she wasn’t any more made of stone than her opponents rock types were.

Remember what Melony told you. You’re making progress. You’re allowed to feel.

“Hey, I know I’m a magnet for attention but are we going to fight or what?”

Gordie was waving his hand around, beckoning her closer and snapping her out of the daydream.

“Of course, Gordie. Always a pleasure to beat you.”

“Heh, that’s my line, Bea.” Gordie flicked the (likely intentional) stray hair strand out of his eye and turned his waving to the crowd. “Give it up for the Stow-on-Side leader, everyone! Make sure she knows that todays the day I take her down a notch.”

There were equal yells of approval and roars of indignation from the stands. Gordie must have had a challenger of his own today for so many people to already be seated. Bea scanned the crowd, noting that her own fans were at least easy to differentiate from his, waving crudely made banners with her face on.

She had to supress a smile when she caught sight of a kid waving a flag with Allister’s face on instead of her own; the smile quickly became a frown as she realised Gordie’s error.

One of Stow-on-Side’s leaders,” she corrected. At this he raised an eyebrow, adjusting his tinted glasses in the process.

“Really? Did you get bored or something? Knew I’d wear you down eventually.”

“My brother earned his position, just as you did,” Bea replied evenly. “You’ve met him twice now.”

He’s definitely in a bad mood today. He usually keeps blunt remarks like that to himself…just how bad did he and Melony fight?

“Heh, I think I vaguely remember that. Hardly matters when I become the Champion.” His grin was making Bea further fired up, but she quickly brought it under control. Losing the mental game so early would be a detriment. Besides, talking trash was fairly common for crowd publicity purposes.

“Allister is a talented trainer, don’t be so sure. He’s got it in him to go far.”

“Probably, unless I shout ‘boo’ and scare him away. What’s he going to do then? Get you to fight in his place?”

“…”

He’s going to pay for that.

The crowd were definitely on board with it too, ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ as the two danced around each other’s words back and forth. The popularity polls always had a field day even before the Pokémon ever got sent out.

Bea however, was beginning to tire of Gordie’s slight bravado. Hype was one thing, but trying to get a rise out of personal things was never the answer.

“I’m surprised you even showed up! My team and I scared off the last challenger before he sent his last guy out!”

“The same team that lost to mine last time?”

“…No.”

Bea was surprised but didn’t let it show. Usually that was the button to push whenever things got heated. Gordie was a notoriously sore loser, not even giving post-match interviews on principle if he lost. This time he seemed almost…too confident.

“Go, Shuckle!”

Clearly the time for words was over, and Gordie made his first move. A deft leap and 360° flip and his Mold Pokémon appeared in a flash of light. Bea did have to admire his agility, coming from someone so heavy. It wasn’t as if he didn’t push his own body to its limits like she did with hers.

Still, Bea couldn’t put her finger on as to why but she felt uneasy. He always led with Shuckle, so perhaps he’d already won the mental game and she just didn’t know it. Regardless, she unhitched her first Pokéball.

“Hawlucha, you’re up!” The wrestling Pokémon eyed its opponent warily, it too sensing something was amiss.

“Aww, no Hitmontop this time?” Gordie was obviously trying to play her but she refused to rise.

“I know what contrary does, Gordie. Giving you a free attack boost isn’t good policy.”

“Oh because Shuckle is known for its fierce attacks, right everyone?” The crowd responded in kind with uproarious laughter at her apparent logic.

So that’s it. He’s playing specifically for his fans this time, even more than usual. That means…he has something to prove to them.

Bea had an idea as to why but she wasn’t just going to tell him straight to his face. Not when he obviously had an ulterior motive for accepting her challenge so readily.

“Hawlucha, taunt Shuckle. We’re not dealing with Stealth Rocks and Sticky Webs this time!”

“Oh?” Gordie readjusted his visor a second time, pointing in the direction of Hawlucha. “Infestation, Shuckle. It’s not getting away.”

Bea watched as her Pokémon became locked in place, shifting around as the tiny bugs latched themselves into its feathers.

Using an offensive move as a lead? He must have suspected I’d use taunt then. He can’t encore me with Shuckle taunted so…

Hawlucha, get up a Swords Dance so we can break through Shuckle’s shell!”

If the images of swords hovering above her Pokémon’s head was intimidating to Gordie he wasn’t letting on. If anything, Bea could see him grinning.

“Shuckle, keep using Infestation on Hawlucha.”

Just what is he intending to do? With most of his moves disabled what can he do to us?

“Hawlucha, ignore the trap and start attacking Shuckle with Flying-Press!” Hawlucha did just that, somersaulting in a similar way that Gordie himself had done before crashing into the rocky shell of the other Pokémon.

Shuckle winced, but didn’t seem all that bothered and continued to sit in place. Gordie’s grin was starting to unnerve Bea, though of course she wasn’t going to let him see that.

“Good job, Shuckle, taking hits all day every day! Hey Bea, not going to use any more Swords Dances to hit us?”

“I’m going to play things my way, your advice isn’t required.”

“Ohohoho, you’re going to wish you’d respected my advice a little more. It’s the advice of the future Champion after all!”

“Of course. Hawlucha,” she called over, prompting a nod of agreement. “Use High Jump Kick on Shuckle! Another nod and her Pokémon flew into the air once more. In a way, Hawlucha was similar to Gordie. Both liked to showboat, but attacks deadly precision and refinement were sure to follow.

This time would be no different, Bea was sure. Right up until High Jump Kick was about to make contact.

“Shuckle, Power Trick!”

“What?!”

It wasn’t an intense or directed burst of light, like Flash, but it was enough to throw off Hawlucha’s timing; Bea could only watch as Shuckle rolled to the side and Hawlucha kept going and crashed into the ground.

“Quick, while Hawlucha is down use Rock Tomb!”

“Hawlucha get out of there!”

Shuckle was quicker, Hawlucha having sustained serious damage already from the missed attack. The rocks fell, crushing the last of her Pokémon’s energy, prompting a cheer from the crowd. Bea returned Hawlucha, stroking the ball slightly.

“Sorry,” she whispered, shutting her eyes. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

“Heh, so much for ‘crushing me’ as you always put it.” Gordie wasn’t even addressing her directly, instead waving to his adoring fans.

“I haven’t ever seen someone use Power Trick like that. Usually the loss in defences mean Shuckle gets knocked out before it can do anything.”

“That’s why I had to wait until you used a risky move. Plus waiting for the taunt to wear off. Simple really.”

“…”

“And now I’m going to sweep you away in a rockslide as the rest of your team falls, no hard feelings.”

So this was his plan. He really intends to take every one of my team out with his Shuckle? No wonder he was so confident, using Power Trick is unorthodox at best. I could never have predicted it.

A smaller voice in the back of Bea’s head told her that she should always predict her opponents ahead of time, or her training wasn’t tough enough. She tried to shake it away, as the voice might as well have been her parents. She wasn’t sure which, it was a mashup of both really.

Bea unsuccessfully told herself that predicting and being a psychic were different things, sending her Sirfetch’d out.

Besides, having a challenger turn up with only Raticate wasn’t something predictable either.

“Sirfetch’d use First Impression! Catch it off guard!”

“Fetch’d!” It might have been a blur to the crowd but Bea followed her Pokémon’s path with trained precision as it delivered a quick stab to Shuckle’s chest area, knocking it back.

“Stand strong, Shuckle and retaliate with Rock Tomb!”

“Sirfetch’d, be ready to block Rock Tombs with your shield!”

With the rocks and shield colliding, a cloud of dust was kicked up off of the barren floor of the gym. Bea heard a cry of pain, unmistakably from her own Pokémon. When the dust cleared Shuckle was a distance away, sitting still as normal as Sirfetch’d did its best to remain proud. Its shield appeared to have taken heavy damage however, though it was clearly willing to fight on.

“Good job, Shuckle, I was curious as to how much that would do.”

“Shuccc, Shuckle!”

“That’s the spirit! We’ll bring a mountain down on her team!”

I can’t…I can’t let that happen. Bea looked over again to Sirfetch’d, who was breathing heavily despite having only just been summoned. That rock attack did a lot even though it’s a resisted hit. Shuckle’s attack is sky high because of the swap.

“Sirfetch’d use Meteor Assault, go all in! We have to knock out Shuckle!”

Gordie seemed unimpressed, flicking his hand lazily over his shoulder.

“Protect yourself, Shuckle.”

Bea grimaced. The glowing leek bounced harmlessly off of Shuckle’s barrier and Sirfetch’d stumbled back, unbalanced from the force of the impact. It too was knocked out by a Rock Tomb and Bea was forced to recall it.

“That was a great job, you dented it enough for us to take it down.” Hardly high praise, especially for one as proud as Sirfetch’d but it was all she had. Gordie’s battle style was as severe as ever, just like his mother’s.

Empty words won’t win you battles. Overwhelming strength will.

Bea dug her heels into the dirt, crouching. She was NOT about to be swept away by a silly looking tortoise with a gimmicky strategy in front of an enormous crowd. A crowd with a lot of Stow-on-Side residents, she reminded herself.

She looked up at the stands to see whispering amongst the banner wavers. They never were all that subtle with their doubts. Still, they were still waving so they clearly still had faith in her to stay, and that was good enough for her.

“Grapplockt, go!” The jujitsu Pokémon plopped itself to the ground, awaiting its orders.

“Heh, saw that one coming.”

“I bet you did.”

“I did.” He affirmed.

That’s where you’re wrong.

“Grapplockt, grab on to Shuckle and hold it tight!”

To the surprise of the people watching, Gordie gave no commands to Shuckle and instead watched the show unfold.

“Predictable, Bea. I think my skill is already clouding your head.”

“Oh is it? Grapplockt, trap Shuckle in a Whirlpool!”

“What?!” Gordie could only watch as his Shuckle was swept away in a hurricane made of water, trapped in place and unable to attack. “I thought you were going for an Octolock! Shuckle, try and escape!”

“As if I’d forgotten about Shuckle’s contrary ability already. Only an amateur would raise Shuckle’s defences, you got complacent because of your attack swap.”

The crowd seemed to be in agreement with her, strangely enough. Gordie, unsurprisingly, was none too pleased with the development.

“Grrrah, Shuckle toxic Grapploct before it can get away.”

“Grapploct, let go of Shuckle!”

It was already too late, as the tell-tale signs of poison coursing through her Pokémon became apparent the closer Grapplockt got towards her. Bulging domes of purple pustules were beginning to form as the poison did its job, slowly weakening it until it too had fainted.

That was a potent poison, Gordie must have trained Shuckle specifically to do that.

Both gym leaders recalled their Pokémon.

“I’m impressed, Bea, you knocked a whole ONE of my team while you’ve lost three.”

“You’ll be even more impressed when we still win!”

The grin was back on Gordie’s face, apparently content with the way things were turning out for him.

“Sure! I’ll give you a signed copy of my League Card if you do.”

“…Sure.” Though their words had been the same, the intonation was far different as Bea began to plan her next move. Unlike gym battles and the early Champion cup rounds, exhibition matches allowed for the use of a full team of 6.

Though Gordie had been rubbing it in she was still at a severe disadvantage in terms of numbers.

But not in terms of skill. If I have to I’ll force a draw. I need power and I need it now. Her mind made up, Bea released her next Pokémon.

“Falinks, I choose you!” The formation Pokémon quickly assembled itself into a line, awaiting commands from both its trainer, and the leader of the pack.

“Interesting. Stonjourner, go!” The big rock Pokémon towered over both Bea and Gordie, as if hoping to squash the competition. Clearly Gordie thought the same. “Target their leader with a Body Slam! Without it they’re useless!”

“Falinks, scatter yourselves! Make it impossible to identify who’s in charge!” Her Pokémon did just that, confusing Stonjouner who only managed to Body Slam the air where they had once been.

“Oh no you don’t, Earthquake the area to disrupt the formation!”

“Protect yourselves, then use No Retreat! Let’s show them our real power!” A red aura enveloped the units, signalling to Bea her Pokéball’s recall function would no longer work. Not that she wanted it to.

“Stonjourner, Rock Slide the area to make it more difficult for them to move!”

“Assemble into a circle and hide around the rocks!”

Gordie narrowed his eyes as Bea’s Pokémon began to adapt to their surroundings. She was starting to turn the tide ever so slightly, and a lack of focus was something he didn’t need right now.

Not a lot gets past her. She probably already figured out I’m not feeling great right now.

He clenched his fist unconsciously, though even that was picked up on by Bea.

“Falinks, Iron Defence.”

Most rock type moves are physical, we could do with the extra hits.

The battle went on like this for another few minutes, with Stonjourner being unable to locate Falinks and Falinks boosting its stats. The rocks, it turned out, were helping the opponent more than his own team Gordie noted, growing annoyed.

Despite his lead he wanted more. Winning wasn’t enough, he had to be seen doing it easily if he was to keep up appearances. Though Bea had a type advantage, the Stow-on-Side gym was two places below the Circhester gym and Gordie knew that realistically there was more pressure on him to win than on her.

If he won then it was ‘Of course you did, you’re from a higher ranked gym’ but if he lost then all he’d hear was ‘You lost to a lower ranked gym? That’s a shame. Type advantages be damned.’

That was part of the reason he’d never wanted to come back to Circhester, but he couldn’t ignore his problems forever. There was just so much pressure. It was infuriating to him how he just wasn’t allowed to be his own person.

It’s your choice, honey, I’ll never ask you to do it if you’re heart isn’t truly in it.

“Stonjourner, Body Press!

Gordie yelled his command, trying to drown out the voice of his mother. It worked, if only for a second. That gentle yet firm tone she always used to try and talk him down annoyed him more than it really should have. Maybe he had too much of his father in him but he could never listen.

No matter what she said he knew he was expected to take over the gym one day. These past few months of trialling the two of them together as leaders had been grating, but bearable. If he ever was to be free, he needed to show the Galar region that his proficiency with rock types was beyond compare.

To hell with the ice type, that isn’t me.

Gordie recalled Stonjourner, having been knocked out by Bea’s Falinks and not even landing a single hit.

Too big and unwieldly. Gah, I need mobility when rocks are known for standing still!

Barbaracle, you’re next! Let’s test your teamwork against Falinks.”

 Bea’s face was ever impassive, just a slight frown as usual as Falinks organised into a box formation.

How does she do that? Even when I had an enormous lead she didn’t crack. If she even has emotions at all she keeps them very well hidden.

His fans were after emotion, however, and Gordie riled them up further with his signature pose; palm out, index finger up; he had had that printed on t-shirts with the chairman’s blessing.

“You almost seem to be staging a comeback, I’m impressed! You’re not getting any further.”

“And here I thought you were going to try another gimmick rather than show me your real power. Enough talk.”

Gordie recoiled internally.

How can she say that with such a straight face?

“Heh, our true power it is then. Barbaracle use Shell Smash!” His Pokémon flipped away from Falinks’s attack, just how he taught it.

His fans always admired that he and his Pokémon could pull the same moves. A synergy not every trainer had, but he was a rising star (or so he’d been called by the media) and he was going to put on a show either way.

“Falinks use Smart Strike to ensure your attack connects!” No amount of dodging was getting away from an attack like that and Barbaracle stumbled backwards.

“Use Payback and regain your balance.”

“Scatter again, don’t let yourself get hit!”

Bea knew that even after a Shell Smash that she was faster thanks to No Retreat, and Falinks was easily able to avoid Barbaracle’s wild swing. They reassembled in front of her, content to march in time while Gordie continued his assault.

She could see he was beginning to lose his cool ever so slightly.

He really banked on defeating me with only Shuckle. What does he have to prove to…oh.

“Melony,” Bea murmured. The same as her mother, Gordie felt he had to live up to his. That had to be it. Melony was a kind soul, but a harsh taskmaster and her persona on the field and off the field might as well have been two different people with the way they acted.

He wants to impress her.

“Barbaracle focus yourself, use Surf to turn Falinks over!”

Gordie’s idea worked and the formation was disrupted, leaving it open for a powerful Razor Shell. Before going down, however, Falinks was able to use Mega Horn at point blank and the two Pokémon ended up knocking each other out. Bea’s 4 to Gordie’s 3.

I’m still at a disadvantage but it’s not the loss it could have been. I can still win this.

I’m losing my lead. How did she bring it back so easily? I have to be better than this.

Two trainers, two trains of thought. One climbing the hill of adversity, one at the peak and ready to slide back down at a moment’s notice.

“Rhyperior, go!”

“Pangoro, go!”

The two eyed each other, mirroring their trainers. Trying to predict the other’s moves, guessing, second guessing, and counter-playing scenarios. Truly this was how battles were won and fought.

“You could give up now, Bea. No one would blame you for losing to me.”

“Just as I’m beginning to turn the tide back my way? Think again, Gordie.”

She isn’t backing down, Gordie mused. That’s to be expected she’s as dedicated as they come. Heck, she marched through Circhester in winter without any shoes and didn’t bat an eyelid! Tough alright.

“Then we’ll have to convince you through our skills alone.”

“Now you’re speaking my language!” Bea resumed her fighting stance, arms ready to follow along with Pangoro’s strikes.

“Maybe you should stick to ghosts after I destroy the rest of your team! Or is that your brother’s thing?”

“…I should hope you choose your words carefully, Gordie.” Bea could feel her eyes beginning to narrow involuntarily. Whenever people brought Allister’s business into places it had no right to be she got tetchy.

“Hey I’m just saying, maybe that’s a better career choice?”

“What do you mean?”

Gordie froze for a moment, realising he’d wandered into territory he didn’t fully understand. Scratch that, Bea’s glare made him feel it was more akin to a minefield than a territory.

“I-I just…it’s like…” He couldn’t figure out how to turn his comment into a harmless jab.

You idiot, of course family gets her fired up just look at yourself? One argument with mum and you lose all credibility as a trainer. All honour.

“Are you questioning my brother’s skills as a trainer?”

“No, I just…I mean if he wants to challenge me can…”

Bea could feel her eye begin to twitch. It was dumb, and irrational, but it bothered her all the same.

“You’re here for me and me alone. My skill versus yours.”

“I mean…”

“What my brother does in his spare time is irrelevant! He can choose to do whatever he wants.”

“Like fighting my gym? I could always use the training…”

“It doesn’t matter what you want, but what he does! If he wants to go explore Glimwood Tangle instead of fighting then that’s his right.”

“I’m not saying…I mean…of course he can…”

Gordie could hear the crowd growing quieter as the two bickered back and forth, unsure of who’s side they were on or even if they were on a side at all. They were just…observing.

What the hell is wrong with me? This is trivial nonsense and yet I still fucked it up. Just like home.

“You bet he can!”

“…I bet he’d rather explore than train though.”

“…”

Gordie realised his mistake far too late as his opponents eye’s lit up in fury. Even her Pangoro seemed angry with him specifically, ignoring his actual opponent and affixing him with a steely glare.

“Oh shit I didn’t mean it like tha…”

“PANGORO, OBLITERATE GORDIE’S TEAM! DYNAMAX NOW!”

Dynamaxing when you weren’t on your last Pokémon was seldom done, but it was by no means forbidden and Gordie watched in trepidation as the Pangoro before him grew in size until the stadium was no more than a suggestion for it. A mere formality as it crushed Rhyperior with the force of a meteor, knocking it out in a single hit.

Gordie, you put your foot in your mouth you idiot! Why did you have to bring the brother into this? Everyone knows she’d die for him for Arceus sake! Gaaaah!!!

Bea on the other hand was seeing red, not even caring when Tyranitar’s sand stream began to cut into her skin.

“I’m getting tired of your trash talk, Gordie. That was a line overstepped.”

“Look, Bea, I didn’t mean to say that! I mean not like that! Obviously your brother is skilled, he’s running a gym with you!”

Whether he was backpedalling or genuinely sorry she couldn’t tell, the continuous stream of sand in her eyes made sure of that. She could barely even make him out as far away as he was.

“Your lack of self-discipline is evident. Even if you didn’t mean what you said I can’t ignore something so…callous. Questioning my brother’s dedication at all shows your true thoughts and I can’t let that slide, even for a lapse in judgment. Pangoro, Max Knuckle once more!”

“Damn it, Tyranitar protect yourself as best you can!” Even with its barrier up the attack from above still inflicted major damage to him, being quadruply weak to the fighting type attack.

“Again, Pangoro, destroy everything around you if you have to!”

This time Tyranitar did not get back up.

With the sand stream gone, Gordie could see Bea clearly again.

She’s mad. Obviously. If someone called your brothers and sister out for not working then of course you’d get mad. Bea and Allister are far closer than I’ll ever get to my siblings so I can’t even imagine how…ah who am I kidding it’s hopeless, I messed up. Got carried away with trying to win.

 Gordie sent out his last Pokémon, Coalossal warming the area up considerably with its presence. Even if he won now, it would be hollow. On the inside it was just…hollow.

As it turned out, neither of them would end up winning. With Pangoro’s dynamax ending and Coalossal Gigantamaxing it seemed like Gordie would take the win, only for Bea’s Hitmontop to use Endure and Counter to knock them both out.

Though it technically counted as a draw, the two fainting at nearly the same time, Hitmontop had been the one responsible for the draw and in his heart Gordie knew it was her win. Clearly the crowd thought so too, the Stow-on-Side portion going wild and cheering for their favourite leader. An incredible comeback in the face of a shaky start.

Even the Circhester portion was clapping for her to a degree, though they were yelling their support for him as well.

As if I deserve it, Gordie thought bitterly, though waving and smiling to them all the same. I went overboard on the mental game and struck a nerve with Bea. If I won I’d feel terrible, so I’m glad she got one on me this time.

Speaking of, the fighting type leader was approaching him now. No doubt for the customary post-battle handshake. Her face was back to impassive, the outburst just a dream from another life.

“That was a good match, Gordie. Your early game strategy was unusual, but clever. I can respect that.”

“T-thanks.” Gordie took the hand outstretched, shaking it with a strength he just didn’t have. “Bea I…”

“Yes, Gordie?”

He looked away, finding the rubble and grass that had been kicked up as a result of their battle to be far more interesting.

“…Meet me in the locker room. I can’t…I can’t do this in front of people.”

“…As you wish.”

And so Bea made her way to the Circhester gym locker rooms, signing a few autographs for her fans on the way. One of Gordie’s surprisingly wanted one too, but of course she obliged. The kid seemed so happy with it, it made Bea feel strange to have fans who predominantly supported another leader.

People are allowed to enjoy battles from any trainer, not just one or two. I’m grateful people can like me even if I’m from a rival gym. On their home turf no less.

Her anger at what had happened was still present, but less now. Meditation training did wonders for letting go of emotions like that. In fact if anything Bea was more annoyed at herself for acting as she did instead of remaining calm.

Foolish.

“Gordie, can I come in?” Bea announced herself just in case he wasn’t ready.

“…Yeah.”

The locker room was bigger than Stow-on-Side’s and filled with icy and rocky tiles interlacing.

“Mum’s idea,” Gordie said, noticing her gaze. “Her way of letting me know that ice types and rock types can get along. That we should get along, or something like that.”

He hadn’t looked up, still refusing to meet her gaze since the pitch. He was sat on the floor instead of one of the many benches, slumping against the confines of a locker with no regard for comfort. He was fiddling with his visor now. No…seeing his own reflection in them was a better descriptor.

“I’m sorry I lost my cool back there,” Bea started. “That was a very dishonourable dynamax and not the way I wanted to win.”

Gordie put his visor down, finally looking up at her.

“You’ve got to be kidding, right? I’m the one who should be apologising to you!” He gestured around to the empty room. “That’s exactly what I called you here for, you know that right?”

Bea nodded.

“I know. You don’t like your fans to see you sulk, I suppose apologising comes under that banner.”

Gordie winced, but sighed and leaned his head away from her gaze.

“I deserved that. Yeah…I’m a wimp when it comes to crowds. Even if I won I’d still have left. I’m sorry.”

“…Look me in the eyes and tell me that or I won’t believe you.”

“Now you sound like mum.”

Still, though the effort was clearly a gargantuan one Gordie still turned his gaze to hers. Steely grey met stormy blue, and Gordie honestly felt like cowering. Bea barely came up to his shoulder and yet she was easily the scariest person he knew, besides his mother. He swallowed uneasily.

“I’m sorry for what I said, Bea. I was trying to break your concentration but you’re just so damn composed all the time. I got desperate and went overboard. I just…I wanted to win so badly and…”

“And you thought rather than trying to win with skill you’d try to get me to make silly mistakes?”

“…Pretty much, yeah.”

“I did wonder why you were trash talking me so much.” Bea sat herself on the bench opposite Gordie, watching him intently. The scrutiny clearly bothered him so she let up, pretending to look around the room; he visibly relaxed. “Why though?”

“…”

“We’ve fought before and it was nothing like today. You using a risky Power Trick strategy is strange enough, but what you said…I didn’t expect it from you of all people.”

“I know, I know!” Gordie pushed his visor across the floor, apparently unwilling to look at himself in the reflection any longer. “I was in a mood already before you came over. I…overate again to try and calm myself but it just made it worse. Then I felt bad for overeating and got more angry, I took that out on you I guess.”

“You overeat when you get angry?”

In response Gordie pinched the sides of his stomach, pulling a roll of fat out from beneath his jersey. His arms fell limply to his sides, not bothering to pull the shirt back down.

“Or when I get sad. Not exactly the most surprising thing ever, is it? I mean just look at me.”

He slumped further to the ground as if he was planning to dissolve into it. Bea could tell he was seriously considering it if he could have done.

“And you, you’re built like the rocks I’m supposed to be good with! You could probably strike a match on your abs. I look at you and...ugh, look at me, oversharing my issues when all you came for was an apology. I’m sorry, Bea, we’re not exactly friends yet. After today, I can understand you not wanting that from me either.”

“I just want understanding, Gordie. The match analogy isn’t one I’ve heard yet so I…appreciate it. It’s nice to have my training acknowledged.”

“Wish I had half the work ethic you do. Then I wouldn’t look like a melted icecream.”

“You eat when you’re sad, right?”

“Yeah. You’ve got discipline in spades.”

“It came at a cost.”

“Huh?”

“You heard me.” Bea crossed her legs on the bench, closing her eyes. “My work ethic is entirely a product of my parents doing. They instilled that into me since day one, and probably before that they were that dedicated. I never had a ‘childhood’ as it were.”

“Neither did I, but one of us looks ready to snap a tree in half and the other…I’m fat, fine I said it.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“I had to. For me.” Gordie rubbed his eyes blearily, noting Bea’s motionless form but also aware she was clearly listening to him. “Geez, I just kept on complaining even after I went to apologise.”

“You clearly have a lot to vent about. Do so, you’ll feel better.”

“To you of all people? Right after I was an arse about your brother?”

“Why not to me? I’m here and you’re clearly not venting at home in ways that help you. Keeping your emotions inside leads to pain. I found that out the hard way. It’s bad for you.”

“Tch, I vent all the time, trust me. Getting heated at home just leads to more trouble.”

“We’re not at home, and I’m not Melony. Families…can be tough. I know all about parents wanting kids to do things before they can even comprehend what ‘things’ are.”

“But…you’re so collected. I was trying to get a rise out of you but it just didn’t work until I said what I did.”

Bea’s eyes opened a crack, before going back to being closed.

“It didn’t mean I didn’t feel what you were saying, Gordie. Showing weakness in battle does me no favours. I suppose…I lost in that regard anyway after I dynamaxed Pangoro. Perhaps I was wrong to not show how I was feeling.”

“I…ugh…I don’t even know, Bea. I didn’t mean what I said at all, you’ve got to believe me! I just…damn it all.”

“You just…?” Bea let the question hang in the air over them like a fog. It was thick, nasty, and one Gordie struggled to get rid of decisively.

“Look, everyone knows how close you two are.”

“…Go on.” Bea opened her eyes fully this time, though remained in her meditation position.

“Yeah, every other leader I’ve spoken to says the same, you two are inseparable! Some part of me thought that pushing that button was the way to make you lose focus. Some other part of me was…jealous.”

“Jealous?”

“Jealous,” Gordie reiterated, slowly drawing his legs up and under his chin; he knew well enough that crossing his legs wasn’t going to happen, whether he could flip or not. “Home life was always so hectic for me, I never felt all that close to my siblings because of the age gap.”

“You’re significantly older than them.”

 Yeah, I’m from mum’s first marriage. My dad, the bastard, left her with me and nothing else before he cleared off. She raised me as best she could while being new to the whole gym leader thing herself. She remarried and had my brothers and sister. The guy was nice to me, good even, but I wasn’t his. His heart belonged to mum, and his kids alone. I never felt like there was any room for me.”

“So you ran away?”

“Yeah.” The word echoed around the empty locker room. Gordie hated that word and all it entailed in his life. “I ran away after I lost to mum and when I came back they all seemed far happier. Like I was the wedge between them, like I was the thing stopping them for being happy together. The guy had passed on while I was gone and I didn’t even know. I never answered any messages from mum, I just assumed she was nagging me. I got myself an apartment on the edge of town so I wouldn’t get in the way, even though mum says its fine for me to move back in.”

“Why don’t you?”

“She still wants me to take over the gym permanently. Wants to focus on her family, her real one.”

“Gordie, you’re her real family too. She wouldn’t have offered you a place at home if she didn’t care. I bet she even offered family Christmas dinner at her place, right?”

“Right. You know you might be a fighting type expert, but you could be a good psychic too if you wanted.”

It was a dumb joke but Bea found the corners of her lips turning upwards slightly. It had been one of those days.

“I’m serious. You should take her up on that offer. It would mean a lot to her.”

“She cares about everyone.” Gordie turned his head away, drawing circles on the dusty floor. “It’s in her nature to want to help everyone, she’s helping your brother today isn’t she? She said so before she left the gym today.”

“She is,” Bea admitted. “But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want you home. You’re her son, Gordie, nothing can change that or make it any less true. I can tell she misses you.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…Bea, I’m so sorry for bringing Allister into this, it’s just that you and him have the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted.”

“…Really?”

Gordie nodded, voluntarily meeting her eyes this time.

“You’re so close to each other, I want that for myself. I’ve always wanted it but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to act around my siblings, we’re hardly related. You’re always so perfect and…”

“Allister and I aren’t related at all, it doesn’t matter Gordie, trust me. Family isn’t just blood, it’s what you choose to do with it.”

Gordie seemed stunned by the information, and it was only then that Bea was reminded that her and Allister’s personal history wasn’t common knowledge.

“You two…aren’t related? At all?” Gordie gave out an exasperated sigh, banging his head on the lockers behind him.

Bea shook her head.

“It’s not exactly hard to figure out. My parents and I have dark skin, and he’s white as a piece of paper. He’s adopted.”

“I just thought he had a skin condition. That and the mask, I thought that made sense…”

“He wears his mask because he wants to,” Bea advised. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Right, sorry. Again.” Another attempt at denting the lockers. “So I really am just a screw up. You two aren’t related and you’re closer than I’ll ever be to people I actually have genetics with. I mean, I can’t share that much, I definitely didn’t get mum’s ‘have unlimited energy to give a shit about other people all the time’ gene. How she has the energy is crazy.”

“That’s a defeatist attitude, Gordie.”

“Yeah, I’ll go get an Archeops and all. Heh, they’re even rock types so they’ll fit right in on my team.”

“Jokes aside, that’s no way to think.” Bea rolled eyes, though the attempt at humour was decent enough. “Your environment was pretty hostile by the sounds of things. Your mum doesn’t have infinite energy either, she said as much to me today.”

“You spoke to mum today?”

“I did. She viewed looking after Allister as a break of sorts.”

“…I knew you didn’t challenge me of your own accord. She told you to come and ‘get me to let off some steam’ didn’t she?”

“Yeah…and you fought with her again this morning? In the gym in front of everyone. That’s why you were so eager to prove yourself to your fans as you’d already lost once today. That’s why you went overboard trying to taunt me.”

Gordie clenched his fist, both of them even, clearly having much more to say on a few choice subjects. However, the rage fizzled out and the apathy drained back in and his arms fell back down.

“Yeah. Glad we’ve both got the full picture then.”

“I suppose we do.”

“I suppose we do,” he echoed.

“Gordie, I care for my brother a lot but we’re not perfect. Far from it. Whatever image you have of us is just a sweeping generalisation.”

“A sweeping generalisation sounds nice honestly.”

“I do my best for him, and I know he tries too. Hearing you say what you did after he’s made so much progress got to me in a way I didn’t know it could.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve said sorry enough, apologise by listening.”

“…Okay. Sorry.”

“These things aren’t perfect. People say things they don’t mean and people get hurt. Alli and I fight sometimes, and it hurts me but I can’t let it show, just like venting for you doesn’t work at home. People fight, we get mad and sometimes we stay mad long past the time we should.”

Bea uncrossed her legs and sank to the floor next to Gordie.

“No amount of meditation will ever truly erase feelings, or we’d be erasing what makes us human. Whatever you think of me being a wall of stone, forget it. I’m human too.”

“…I can see that.” Gordie was looking at her now, now that they were on the same level; it was if he was truly seeing her as just another person, not some ideal on a stand. Bea had to admit that it felt good.

“Just as I need to be more honest with Alli, you need to be honest with Melony. Go for Christmas, stay and help and be a big brother to your siblings. Just go with the flow, there’s no plans you can follow for that kind of thing. I don’t follow a plan for being a big sister, I just live day to day and do what I think is best.”

“But I…”

“I already know you don’t truly feel that isolating yourself from your family is for the best. You want to be a part of it or you wouldn’t care nearly as much as you do.”

Gordie closed his mouth.

“I know that because that’s what I want. I’ve set myself on such a high pedestal away from Alli and he looks up to me like I’m some sort of saint, when really I’m sitting right next to him. That’s my fault, but I haven’t addressed it until recently. I want him to see me as his sister, not a saviour.”

“Well…Christmas is the time for family, as you say.”

Bea could see he was properly smiling now, not flaunting a cocky grin or pretending he wasn’t hurting on the inside. Just, a genuine emotion.

“Look at us.”

Gordie looked around the locker room again. It felt cosier than before, and not just because of the body heated now next to him. Like he belonged, just a little more.

“I genuinely didn’t know if you had emotions, Bea. I’m glad I was wrong. Sorry if that sounds rude.”

“It’s okay, I get it a lot.”

“You…shouldn’t.” Gordie scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “I can see you have a lot going on inside, like me. That isn’t stony at all.”

“…Thanks.”

“Gah, I mean…you should tell your brother what you told me.”

“Only if you tell your mother what you told me.”

“I…heh, yeah. You got me.”

“You’ll spend Christmas with them?”

“I’ll try. I have to start somewhere.”

“I can respect that. Choosing to start a new chapter in your life is always the hardest part.”

“…”

“…”

“…So do I have to give you a signed copy of my League card now?”

“A decent present, if you really want to.” Bea couldn’t help but smile. Today was definitely one of those days.

Chapter Text

“Alli, it’s nearly time for presents!” Allister heard Bea’s voice drift up the stairs and into his room but he made no move to leave.

Alright, I’m gonna tell her! He immediately didn’t believe a single word. Christmas day was supposed to be a happy time and yet Allister remained paralysed with fear.

Bea had been in a relatively good mood ever since she’d spoken with Melony and come back from the Circhester gym and he really really didn’t want to do anything to sour that. With his cold gone, Allister’s mind had defaulted back into fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of loss.

I have to tell her.

Realistically, Allister didn’t have any reasons at all to be afraid today. House decorating was all fine, and Bea had dragged in a pine tree from outside for him to have free reign over. Allister did secretly count that as a present in its own right but made sure to not voice that; Bea wouldn’t have approved, saying ‘It’s just a little something.’”

“Yeah ‘cos dragging a tree all the way from Stow-on-Side outskirts and up all those cliffs was ‘little’. Bet she had haul it past Cara Liss without stopping. She’d probably steal it.”

Allister wasn’t sure why exactly the self-proclaimed ‘fossil reanimator’ had parked herself at the edge of their town but she unsettled him. Bea thought so too, and they did their best to avoid the thousand-yard stare (and creepy grin) whenever possible.

“Is she having Christmas in that tent or does she actually live somewhere?”

Allister knew he was distracting himself purposefully and tried to put it out of his mind. He had to focus or he’d never get around to anything important.

They’d also gotten through Christmas dinner without incident, if one discounted Gengar vanishing one of the chairs for a few minutes. He’d gotten Bea’s present on time, no stress of last minute market shopping for him! He’d even survived the traditional Galar League holiday get-together on the top floor of the Budew Drop Inn.

Bea had been very proud of him but Allister still shuddered at the memory. He knew it was optional, and Bea had made it very clear he didn’t have to but he wanted to. For her. She didn’t care much for parties herself but it was only once a year, and having all the leaders together was a rarity. Only the Champion Cup had that honour, and even that was mostly business as opposed to pleasurable endeavours.

At least I got to see Milo again.

No, what was bothering the young gym leader was that despite his best efforts he still hadn’t been able to confess that he’d been talking online with someone. His friend in Alola, trial captain Acerola.

She’s got to know. The secret’s just gonna be hanging over me if I don’t, and it’ll ruin Christmas for the both of us if I don’t. I’ll be all anxious and weird if I don’t!

It had seemed so easy when Melony had encouraged him but as soon as Bea had gotten back his confidence had taken a backseat once more. Allister was sure his sister knew he was hiding something, and that something extended beyond this year’s present.

He had enough anxiety concerning whether she’d even like his present. He’d helped make it himself after all.

“Gen, gen-gar!”

Allister observed his Gengar floating around near the top of his wardrobe, licking up any stray dust particles it could find. He hoped it was the spectral kind, not just house dirt.

“Y-yeah! Shame Bea doesn’t speak ghost too…otherwise you could tell her instead!”

“Garrrr…”

“I know, I gotta tell her m’self. She’ll…be proud of me, r-right? She w-won’t get mad?”

And so the debate continued, both internally in the battleground that comprised Allister’s thoughts, and with Gengar in the bedroom.

She’ll be proud I made a friend, but mad I kept a secret so big. I just…I dunno.

“Alli?” His sister’s voice called again, and Allister knew he was out of time.

“Comin’, sis!”

Guess there wasn’t a better day I could pick. This is kinda a present too, right? She said that making a new friend is a present in itself.

Allister shuffled himself down the stairs, careful not to pull any of the tinsel on the railings down with him.

Bea was in the kitchen wearing a terrible sweater that passed as her parent’s gift to them. To their credit he had one as well, but it was olive green and white with little Mudsdale on. Not enough purple for his liking.

He knew it was a token gesture, just as much as it was a token gesture Bea was still wearing hers. At least they’d settled for a video call instead of physically coming over. That would’ve definitely made things…interesting.

Allister watched as his sister continued clearing up from the meal. How only two people could make so much mess was beyond him, but it was his mess too and he wanted to help; Bea had encouraged him not too despite his protests. She enjoyed making order from chaos far more than he did.

Chaos had its own value to Allister, ruins were proof of that. That tree branch growing in that specific way had led to the collapse of that wall there in such a way that rainfall filled a little pool.

One tiny change and the rain would spread elsewhere, and the little colony of Morelull would be forced to move. He frequently spent hours just staring at one crack in a wall in abandoned buildings, and then returning the next day to continue.

Unfortunately that made Allister’s ability to organise and put things away to be…fairly limited. He could understand his sister shooing him for something as big as a Christmas meal, but he still liked to help. This time he’d gotten a present so amazing Bea would absolutely forgive his uselessness. He hoped.

Not that she ever gets mad at me for that. She gets why I have trouble.

“Oh there you are! Your present is on the table, if you want to unwrap it?” His sister was smiling warmly, that special kind of smile reserved just for the two of them on a cold winter’s night. The kind of warmth that infected him with its heavy, sluggish hold and Allister quickly gave in. He took a seat on the loungeroom sofa, mumbling his thanks as Bea turned away.

You coward, it’s now or never.

“Umm…a-actually, sis?”

“Hm, what is it, Alli?”

“I…have something…to say. Like, before w-we do all the presents ‘n stuff.”

“Sure, I’ll be a minute or two.”

Allister hadn’t seen his sister’s expression as he’d shied away behind a cushion before saying anything. His own personal shield against his doubts, just like monsters could never get through is blanket no matter how strong. Still, he’d sensed she was a little confused, but supportive and willing to listen.  

If that doesn’t sum up our entire relationship then I don’t know what does.

True to her word, Bea only took a few minutes to put away the last of the leftovers before sitting down next to him gently.

“So, what’s on your mind?”

“I…”

I’m really doing this.

“I…want to say…I-I mean first…t-thanks! To you! Thank you! That’s…um…what I meant. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Alli. That’s very kind of you to say.”

“N-no…I mean…” Allister bit his lip, before making the decision to remove his mask entirely, placing the glazed ceramic next to him on sofa. “I gotta look at you w-with my own eyes f-for once in my life.”

“Alli…are you sure? You don’t have to…” Bea was nothing if not concerned for him and her face was full of it. Removing his mask was seldom done, even for her.

Whatever he’s about to say must be big.

“I do have to a-and I…want to too.” He looked up at his sister, her face a picture of joy marred with worry. “No masks between us.”

“…Alright.”

“I…” Allister sighed, violet eyes blinking heavier than he would have liked. “I did mean it. Thank you, I mean. N-not just for today but for…everything.”

He reached out his hand slowly, Bea understanding what he wanted; she took the hand in her own, covering it with her other and sandwiching it. A gesture of comfort for the most serious of times.

“You don’t have to thank me, Allister. I’m just doing my job.”

“Your job was hard this year,” he pointed out quietly. “I make things hard.”

“Alli, please don’t say things like that.” Bea’s voice was equally quiet now. “You know I wouldn’t ever give you up. Not for anything.”

“You could’ve left m-me with your parents…when you got old enough to leave. They could’ve done your job.”

“Would you have wanted that?”

“Of course not b-but…”

“But nothing.” Bea gave Allister’s hand a gentle squeeze. “They weren’t what you needed, nor need now.” She gestured to herself up and down before re-grabbing his hand. “You saw what they turned me into. You remember when we first met?”

“G-geez, yeah. You were scary and aloof. M-more interested in p-punching bags than me.”

“I didn’t understand. I didn’t get you. Over time, I started to, and I came to appreciate you. At least I hope I did. My parents never quite figured out how to. Besides,” Bea raised an eyebrow to Allister’s wide eyes. “…why do you think I put my name down on your adoption certificate? My parents don’t have any legal right to you. You’re my brother, and you’re not tradeable for another. Giving you up would be giving part of me up. We’re family. Nothing will change that.”

“…”

“Oh, I’m sorry I…” Bea quickly handed Allister the box of tissues from the coffee table. They did little to stem the flow of tears, the waterworks deciding now was the time for a test drive.

“I d-don’t deserve you!”

“Hey, no one deserves anyone at all. We just got lucky. I got lucky.”

“N-no…it’s not true. It c-can’t be.”

“It’s true,” she reassured, taking the time to stroke his hair lightly. The bangs that weren’t usually visible were darkened slightly, likely by the lack of sunlight; Bea swept them out of his eyes as he continued to sob intermittently. “You made me better. That girl who only wanted to punch training bags, meditate, and be the strongest above all else is gone. You helped her change, just as I’m here for you.”

“S-stop…I can’t…w-what Ms. Melony said…w-was actually…true then?”

“Melony?” She shouldn’t have been surprised, he’d been at home with her for the best part of a day after all. Her influence gracing their lives again.

I hope her and Gordie put aside their differences, at least for today. They did both go the gym leader gathering but I didn’t see them talk much.

“Y-yeah. She told me…” Allister paused to blow his nose into the pile of tissues he’d grabbed; this wasn’t a one tissue job any longer. “S-she told me what you just said. About you…valuing me. As a person.”

“Alli…”

“I figured s-she was j-just bein’ Ms. Melony, bein’ kind to everyone. I didn’t b’lieve…really, t-that she wasn’t jus’ trying to make my feel better. I figured you were nice to me jus’ on principle. I…um…was n-never sure if you actually…liked me for me.

“Of course I do, Alli. The days of me just tolerating you died long ago when we were still with my parents. You’re the real, proper family I think I always wanted. I needed, even.”

Before Allister could react he was already in the embrace, Bea leaning across the sofa and hugging him as best she could in the current position. Though still jittery, he sank into the hug to wrap his arms around his sister’s back, not even caring that the tears were going to soak into the new sweater.

It’s a dumb jumper anyway. Better off as a tea cosy.

“You’re my brother, best friend, and I love you. What’s brought this on, Alli? It’s not just seasonal depression is it?”

“B-Bea…I love you so so much, I don’t w-wanna lose you or make y-you mad! You’re my b-best friend ever b-but I think I m-messed up.”

“You messed up?” Bea didn’t let go, if anything hugging the boy tighter as if he’d slip away between the cracks. “What’s wrong?”

“I got a s-secret!”

“A secret?”

“Y-yeah!” Allister drew the line at wiping his nose on the sweater, as garish as it was and separated the two of them, taking a wad of tissues for his troubles.

So much for bein’ well, I just got rid of my cold and I’m already back to wipin’ myself up!

“I-I know you know I do. And t-then I know you know that I know y-you know I do! Cos’ of that I know that you know…”

“Breathe, Alli…just breathe for me. From the top.” Without the two in close proximity Bea wasn’t exactly sure what she should be doing with herself. It just felt like there were strings tied to her arms and legs like a puppet, but no one was controlling her and telling her what to do.

Hugging is always easy. We can both hide our faces that way.

Bea watched as Allister calmed himself down, following her lead as she breathed deeply. Not perfectly in time, but the effect was the desired one. Diffusing tension had always been an art for the two of them.

“I…you know I’ve b-been hiding something, right?”

“I know.” Bea settled for folding her hands in her lap with little else do with them. “You’ve been giving me side glances for months now, skittish when on your phone, lights under your door late at night.”

“T-then why didn’t you s-say something…if you knew…I mean.”

“Because you weren’t ready to, Alli,” Bea said gently. “I didn’t want to push you.”

“B-but I was keeping something from you! I thought…” Allister paused, blinking away his tears in a show of defiance to his own body. “…I thought you’d be upset.”

“You’re your own person, my dear brother. You’re allowed to keep stuff from me.”

“I don’t make a h-habit of it,” he mumbled. “I tell you n-nearly everything.”

Allister quickly hugged his knees at the memories, just out of reach; Bea instinctively shuffled next to him to allow a side hug. He latched on, fidgeting with the jumper as the material itched him. She always knew his mind in those instances.

“ Th’ nightmares, my past, my parents…you know everything.”

“Because you chose to share it with me,” she comforted, running her hands through his hair.

It was an unspoken truth between them, or perhaps a lie, that ‘everything’ only meant as far as ‘everything that I know’. Bea continued scratching her brother’s scalp lightly.

Great swathes of Allister’s life had been stolen away, vanished in silence by forces neither of them could understand. Now they only remained as memories. A jigsaw with pieces missing and pieces torn.

Why he could commune with ghosts and hear the dying, or what had really happened the night his abilities revealed themselves: He couldn’t answer those questions nor did a part of him want to. His mind shielding itself from an unknowable truth.

He wanted his new life as a gym leader, and he wanted to be a good brother. The fear of messing any of it up would always get to him. A finely delicate balance not to be disturbed under any circumstances, at least in his mind.

Even the thought of his parents was just a faded remnant of another boy’s life. Was that life even his?

With the dreams and nightmares, Allister would wake nearly every night in terror at something just out of reach. A shadow stopping him from seeing further, as Bea would hold his hand and stay with him until the sobbing would give way to silence, as it did now.

Bea scrunched her eyes tight. Even someone as emotionally airtight as her past self could see something bothered him. Now, it made her sick with grief that one so young had so much to deal with. It wasn’t fair. It never was.

“I didn’t wanna share…’til now.”

“I’m glad you feel confident enough.”

Allister looked up his sister’s eyes, violet reflecting on silver.

“Am I, though? Don’t feel so confident…”

“If you were keeping something truly dangerous I’d have been able to tell, and I’d have intervened. But…you seemed happier, better even, when you weren’t freaking out about me knowing. Me asking before you were ready would’ve pushed you away. I never want to push you away, Alli. Even if I do accidentally.”

“I…huh? ‘m happier but what d’you mean you push me away? You’re always there for me even when I freak and run away! Remember when I t-tried to camp out?”

“Yeah…I didn’t mean it like that…” Bea sighed, knowing it would soon be time.

What I told Gordie. It’s time for Alli to know too.

“In a moment, I promise. You’ve worked up the courage to tell me something big and I have so much respect for that. This is your moment, Allister, I won’t take it away. Go ahead.”

Allister scrutinised his sister’s face, searching for any gaps in the armour. Finding only reassurance the fidgeting ceased. Then, after a big breath that only someone about to expect the worst would take in, Allister spoke.

“I…………I met someone…online...without telling you. I made a f-friend! Please don’t be mad at me.”

The last part had been uttered so quietly that even the walls strained to hear the words of pain. Bea however had heard clearly. The tears leaking down her own face was proof of that.

“Alli…”

“Aww g-geez, you’re c-crying! You n-never do that I’m sor…”

Though Allister had made to leave, no doubt to escape back to his sanctuary of pillows and blankets upstairs, Bea pulled him back, shaking her head vigorously.

“No no, these are happy tears, Alli! I’m so very happy for you!”

“I-I’ll say! I’ve never s-seen you light up like this!” This was absolutely not the response he’d been expecting and his heart felt ready to leap out of his chest. Leap far above the peaks of Mt. Lanakila and Coronet in tandem, that his sister was actually accepting this.

It was more than a little shocking for him to see his sister so…emotional. Even when it was just the two of them she was usually so much more subdued. To her credit it wasn’t often a bombshell of this magnitude got dropped.

“To think this is what you’ve been hiding from me! How could I not be happy my little brother has made a friend?” Though Bea wiped her eyes, more tears replaced them quickly. It was a lot to take in.

“You’re not mad? At all? And you’re crying, I don’t t-think I’ve seen you do that before!”

“That you’ve gotten one of your deepest wishes come true? Never, Alli, never.” Bea raised her palm up to the light, now wet. “Heh, until recently I wasn’t sure I could. I think a talk with Melony was the tipping point I needed.”

“Yeah, Melony’s pretty great.”

Got her own demons too, though. Gordie seemed so sad at the gym party when we were supposed to be havin’ a good time.

“So what’s their name?” It seemed Bea had composed herself now, though not before another quick hug as Allister’s insides protest at the squash.

“Acerola, s-she’s super cool! She’s l-like a gym leader in the Alola region but like t-they don’t have them so she’s a t-trial captain instead but then a-also she’s part of their elite4 and she likes ghosts l-like me and, and, and…”

Allister was forced to pause for breath, Bea beaming all the while. Her brother, helping himself!

He’s grown up so much. A year ago and this would never have been possible. Perhaps all things are, given time?

“She’s got a Mimikyu, and a Palossand, which I’ve only s-seen in picture books, and she’s about my age! I…um…I like her. She’s g-great.”

“She sounds great, Alli. Someone who appreciates ghost types the way you do is a real gift.”

“Um…you see why I t-tried to hide her then?”

“I think I get it? You thought I was going to act all helicoptery and nosy and ask if she was real, right?”

“Y-yeah…pretty much.”

Bea leaned back on the sofa, the feeling of surprise not quite gone yet. Here she thought they just going to exchange presents and watch a Christmas movie together.

“I can see why you would. That’s exactly the kind of thing my parents would do. Since I come from them…yeah, you were worried I’d try and take this away from you.”

“Mmhmm. Figured you tell me it was too dangerous talkin’ to strangers by m’self. People can pretend online, I know that.”

“They can.” Bea shrugged. “You’ve got a pretty discerning eye, though. You can smell danger a mile away, Alli, I trust your judgment.

“You got…that much faith in me?” Allister tugged on his sister’s sleeve. “For real? You’re not jus’ saying that?” Bea placed her hand over his as she had done so earlier.

“Of course not. I may have kept things from you but I’ve never lied, Alli.”

“Y-yeah, I guess. I wouldn’t know either way, right?”

Bea had to laugh at Allister’s poor attempt at humour. The sheepish grin was just too much to bear.

“True. You trust me though?”

“’Course I do.”

“So…are you planning to meet up with Acerola then? Alola’s pretty far, y’know?”

“I hadn’t…uhh…thought that far ahead.” Allister furrowed his brow, examining the outside of his mask. He’d gotten dirt on it from somewhere again. “I jus’ wanted to chat n’ stuff. We haven’t even video called yet.”

“Ah I understand. Does she know about…stuff?”

“My mask? Not yet. It’s kinda scary to think.” Allister placed it on the coffee table out of reach; he’d just fiddle with it given the option. “You think she’ll accept someone she can’t see, Bea?”

“Hey, she’ll be able to see you’re a great person with love in their heart and an adventurous spirit.”

“Aww, I-I’m gonna blush.” Allister hid his face with hands but smiled all the same.

“I’m serious, Alli. I’m sure she’s been having as fun talking with you as you have with her.”

“I…I dunno what to say, sis…this went better than anything I hoped.”

Bea raised an eyebrow as he peaked out from behind his hands; when he began to bite at his nails she gently pulled his fingers away from his mouth.

“Uh, uh. No biting, Alli.”

“Awww…special occasion, sis?”

Bea shook her head, though kept a wry smile.

“Let’s be glad you wear a mask most of the time. You might not have fingertips at all otherwise.”

“Heh, n-nerves! M’bad.” Regardless Allister let his hands be guided, not resisting.

“Hey you earned the nerves today, Alli.” Bea nodded in confirmation. Visual cues were just as important as the audible ones after all. “I’m really proud of you, not just for having a new friend but for trusting me enough to tell me.”

“T-thanks. I’m glad I did too. Um…don’t you have something you wanna say too? If you wanna…”

Bea’s smile faded.

I do.

“If we’re telling secrets I suppose now’s the time.” Bea flicked the hair out of her face. Without her headband it got unruly quickly but she couldn’t bring herself to replace it. One day maybe.

“I’ve made up this image of myself, Alli. A strong, amazing sister who can do no wrong in your eyes.” She unfocused her eyes, staring past Allister to the empty space beyond. “I’m not a saint on pedestal, brother. I’m just a person and I…I make mistakes too. I’m not nearly as perfect as I’d have you believe.”

“…”

“I fail, I get angry, and I have regrets. Just last week I could’ve ripped Circhester stadium apart because I got mad during a dynamax. I always manage to calm you down when on the inside I’m hurting. It’s…it’s been eating away at me for a while now. I’m not perfect, but I’m still your big sister, whoever that is.”

“I…never knew, Bea.”

“That’s why it was a secret, Alli.” A listless smile crossed her face. Lost to the dark. “If you have the courage to tell me something that matters to you then so can I.” She ruffled his hair lightly, prompting a giggle. “Look at you being the leader now, showing me how it’s done.”

“I learned from the best.”

“Aha, alright hotshot.” Silence. “I didn’t want you to know but I’ve come to realise that although I’ve been helping you, I won’t be able to help you any further if I don’t change too.”

“That’s mature, Bea. That’s why I look t-to you.”

“That?”

“Y-yeah! You’re strong because you really work at it! Every time I think ‘bout quitting I think of what you do all the time. You don’t give up!”

“Sometimes I feel like giving up, Alli. No matter how hard I work.”

“I think…everybody feels like that, sis. Some do give up. You don’t though you keep workin’ hard even when you can’t see a way forward.”

“Well, that’s a mature thing to say. I suppose I look up to you too in that way.”

“Nawww, you don’t need to flatter me, sis!”

“Seriously! You work hard too even when it overwhelms you, you never give up completely.”

“Cos’ I got you by my side!” He countered.

“Anyone can do my job, Alli. I’m not special doing what I do.”

“I mean…if you mean the words then yeah. Could get m’ Rotom phone to just tell me how to do things or what t’ do.”

“Well…”

“Aren’t all people just big, human shaped Rotom phones? Saying random things at random times?”

“Your analogy is strange but the logic is there. I get you.”

“Do you though?” It was Allister’s turn to take Bea’s hands in his own. He knew Bea secretly liked him to take the initiative once in a while. “Anyone could tell me to pick m’self off the floor and not sob into the carpet for 6 hours. Wouldn’t work though as they wouldn’t be you. No one knows me like you do, sis, and I don’t want them too. No matter how friendly Acerola and I get she won’t replace you or even come close if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I have worried…before. I admit it.” It pained her to say so but this wasn’t a time to hold back. Losing her brother was a loss she didn’t know if she could take.

“We grew up together, no one k-knows me like you do. Sure, somebody else coulda but no one did, Bea. You did. Anyone meetin’ anyone is just luck in the end.” Allister held the darker hand close. “And I’m the luckiest sod in the world to have you as my sibling!”

“Alli, oh Alli!” Bea sniffled slightly, but kept the tears at bay. “That was the purest thing I’ve heard I think. I try never to focus on what could’ve been, but you’re right and I’m lucky to have you too. And…thanks for stealing my line…hearing it out loud warms me up more than this tacky jumper ever will.”

“Wouldn’t trade y-you for anyone, just like y’ told me.”

“…Yeah.”

“…The jumper ‘s awful, though. You’re spot on.”

The silence that followed was the most comfortable ever to grace that house. Finally at a peace not had in years, the two siblings just enjoyed each other’s company. The howl of the wind, the drip of the tap, and the squish of the sofa cushions were all a highlight of an otherwise muted time.

“H-hey why did y’ nearly break Circhester stadium? Melony said you were fightin’ Gordie?”

Bea coughed into her fist. Obviously fake, but obviously embarrassed too if Allister had a read on her.

“I…Gordie said something he didn’t mean, that’s all.”

“Wow, he must’ve said somethin’ wild to get you mad!”

“Yeah I guess.”

“He didn’t call you ‘not girly enough’ did he?” Allister contemplated the options, and that was the only thing that sprang to mind. “I know that’s a button.”

“It is,” Bea affirmed, trying to put being forced to try on a dress during the gym leader party out of her mind.

“Hey, didn’t Nessa make you wear a dress at the party?”

“H-huh? You saw that??? Bea sputtered, for once not being composed even a little. “I thought you were in the other room! It was truth or dare! I had to!”

“You looked fine. Nice even,” Allister mentioned, not really paying attention. It hadn’t been correct after all and focussing obsessively was one of his option select’s.

“I couldn’t refuse, it’s dishonourable! I…wait what?” Bea recalled the faces of those in the room. They just seemed as miffed as she did. Thankfully no pictures or selfies after she’d threatened to break Raihan’s throwing arm and threats of death. Her face was hot at the memory alone.

“Yeah, suits you. I dunno about girl stuff but it works with you, even if you don’t think it’s for you.”

“Thanks, Alli. That’s…nice to hear.” Bea could feel her face getting hotter if that was even scientifically allowed. “Hadn’t considered it. They’re hard to train in.”

“Plus you haven’t worn shoes since you finished school. Girls like shoes, right?”

“They do. Lots and lots of shoes.” Bea tried to drown out Nessa’s constant offers (read: instances) of shoe shopping together at various times; she resigned herself that even if she became comatose or braindead nothing was going to ever stop the begging playing on a loop for all eternity.

Just oooonnnneeee time, Bea, it’ll be great! I’ll even pay! Come onnnnnn!

*Ahem*” Bea faked another cough. “That wasn’t it, no. Gordie said something else.”

“Hmmm, I’m outta ideas then, that was my go to!”

“It’s nothing, Alli. Don’t trouble yourself.”

“Nuh-uh, was all that talk about keeping secrets a lie?”

“You little…” Bea couldn’t be mad at his face, eyes wide and deliberately trembling for her. “You’re playing me like a pokéflute!” Allister cracked a toothy grin in response.

“Maybe, sis, maybe.”

“Ughhh…”

“Maybe you should tell me, you’ll feel better.”

“Maybe you don’t want dessert?”

Allister held his hands up in defence.

“Aww c’mon, I take it back! Nothin’s worth knowin’ to give up your Christmas berry pie.”

“…Tch, I give in. I was going to give you some anyway.” Bea sighed deeply, knowing exactly what was coming. “Fine, Gordie called your reputation as a trainer into account. He was trying to get a rise out of me and went overboard.”

“…You nearly destroyed the Circhester gym…cos’ of me?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, you’re even more hardcore than I thought!”

“W-what? That’s hardly the message to take away from this!”

“Kidding!” Allister held his hands up a second time; Bea pulled them down, exasperated. “Seriously though, you didn’t have t’. Folks can think what they want.”

“I…I know. I know. It just, bugged me I guess. He’d been talking a lot of big talk a while and I snapped. I try not to make a habit of it.”

“Like when you invited yourself over for a school assembly to stop me getting bullied?”

“…Exactly. Maybe that was irrational too.”

“I don’t get bullied, sis! That’s p-pretty great even if people ‘r scared of me too now.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. You were so hurt so bad I couldn’t see another way.”

Allister instinctively rubbed at his arm, once broken by kids twice his size just because they could. Obviously being a shy, awkward, mousy kid did him no favours either but it was on them not to act, not him to change. He knew that now.

“All they understood was violence and hitting n’ stuff. You comin’ in to talk about fightin’ types and how strong they are did a r-real number on their confidence!”

“Well that’s something good then.”

“Did y’ at least beat Gordie?”

“Hm? Oh I flattened his team after that, yes. I’m not proud of it, but I did win.”

“Makes sense then, did wonder what was with him at the party.”

“Ah, I did wonder where you went off to.”

“I watched him eat through a w-whole cake like it was nothin’…he didn’t even enjoy it, but he did it anyway.”

Stress eating. Even at the party he couldn’t relax properly.

“Is he depressed, sis? Like I’ve got anxiety?”

“He’s…confused,” Bea said at length. “A lot of emotions to fight through and not all of them are good. I think his mother is the same, just hiding it better.”

“Oh…makes sense ‘suppose. He was t-trying not t’ be sad in front of me.”

“Did you see anything else interesting at the party?”

“Uh…” Allister searched through his hazy account of the night, drawing mostly blanks. “I saw Raihan swaying and trying to get his arm ‘round Leon. Nessa and Sonia went off somewhere for ‘girl stuff’. Milo found Piers hiding with a songsheet tryin’ get some peace n’ quiet. Standard I guess. Oh,” he exclaimed, sudden clarity at the memory. “Did Leon ever find his keys?”

“Not that I know. Wins every Champion cup no problem, but can’t hold on to his things to save his life. It’s a mystery.”

“Poor guy.”

“I just hope Gordie and Melony could put aside their differences, at least for today.” Bea mused, resuming her fondling of Allister’s locks. “Today is a day for family.”

“Isn’t that, like, everyday?”

Especially today.”

“H-heh, fair enough.”

“Speaking of…” Bea leaned over the side of the sofa. Allister was momentarily confused until she returned holding an immaculately wrapped, colourful box. “…I believe we have some presents to give.”

“You w-were hiding stuff under th’ sofa? Aww…I didn’t think t’ check!”

“You keep finding my hiding places so I thought more creatively this time. I win this round,” she added, noting her brother’s pout.

“Pshh, ‘suppose it’s better than me findin’ out what in advance.”

“An astute observation.” Bea held the box out. “Merry Christmas, Allister.”

“Thanks, sis! It feels…good. Like even before I’m inside.”

Allister thumbed over the box inquisitively, Bea watching every brow furrow and lip bite as he tried to work out its contents.

“It’s like…familiar. Somethin’ ghostly.”

“That’s my brother! Sensing things even though you haven’t opened it yet.”

“Does it count as me ruinin’ the surprise?”

“No, just aware. Go on, open it!”

Allister wasted no more time and ripped into the packaging messily (using his teeth on that extra stubborn piece of tape that had refused to budge). Bea was forever glad her brother had decided to remove his mask earlier; she wouldn’t have been able to see his eyes light up as they did when the contents spilled onto the sofa.

“This is a Reaper Cloth!”

“After you used your old one to evolve Dusclops I thought you could do with another.”

“B-Bea…these things are super hard to find!” Allister rubbed the ghostly rag all over his face as if to check its validity. It was no trick, and he shook his sister’s hand up and down with the force of a boy high on too much sugar. If sugar was spooky ghost relics.

“I had to search a while, but it was worth it.” She pinched his cheek, smiling. “Judging by your face anyway.”

“It’s a real beauty, high quality and all!”

“I’m glad it’s up to standard.”

“Y-yeah, no kidding. How did you…aww man, you ain’t gonna tell me, right?” Allister rolled his eyes at the ‘nope’ he got in response. “Figures. Still won’t tell me how you managed to get a Mismagius in Galar.”

“Mysteries for the future, Alli. If we knew all the answers life wouldn’t be interesting.”

“You just sound like you’re bein’ evasive on purpose…but it’s Christmas so I’ll forgive you.”

“I’m humbled.”

“You w-will be! Wait ‘til you see what I got you!” Allister spoke with a confidence he didn’t really have but Bea still bought into it, clearly impressed. “Hold on.”

Bea watched as he scampered upstairs, returning quickly with a slightly deformed looking package covered in glitter. Purple stars had also been glued on with more glue than star.

“T-tried to decorate it m’self. Got a little…out of hand.”

“It’s a personal touch. I appreciate all the more.”

“O-oh…well go ahead anyway…”

Bea did so, though did take the time to admire the handywork before ripping it apart. Inside the mishmash of bubblewrap and loose glitter there was…something. Bea wasn’t entirely sure. It was curved, likened to a boomerang almost.

“This is…”

“It’ll make s-sense out of the box. When it’s…unfolded.”

“Unfolded? I…oh.”

Allister was indeed correct, without the confines of packaging holding it in place the gift was beyond obvious. Black plastic wrapped in felt with just a hint of orange at the tip.

“A headband,” Bea whispered. “A new one.” Holding it like it was worth its weight in gold, Bea swivelled her eyes to look at her brother.

“Um…l-look at the top. Closely!” Allister resorted to hiding his face behind his hands again. Even in confidence some things were still just a little too intense.

Bea did so, greatly intrigued by just how much of a facsimile of her old one this was. There was even the custom padded stitching under the scalp area so it could double as a sweatband when needed. Her fingers traced upwards towards the ‘ears’ of the band. The previous familiar shade of orange tinted the leftmost ear.

“Wait…” Bea held it closer, eyeing the other side with greater scrutiny. The other ear tip wasn’t completely black as it had been before. Instead, it was quite faint, but a definitely visible shade of purple adorned it.

“I made it for you,” Allister blurted out, not realising he’d been holding a breath in. “T-to show I’ll n-never l-let you down, a-and that Stow-on-Side’s got 2 gym leaders now. Orange for you…purple f-for me. W-wanted to show you I’m s-serious about bein’ a leader…and I f-felt so bad you lost your other one cos’ of me. Purple so it’s personal.”

“Alli, it’s perfect,” she said simply.

“R-really?”

“My smile doesn’t lie.”

Allister watched in amazement as the widest grin to ever grace his sister’s features made itself at home there.

“T-that’s for sure! G-glad y’do.”

“How did you even…? It’s incredible.” Bea gently placed the headpiece where it belonged, sweeping up the unruly hair in a single motion. “How do I look?”

With one tip of orange, and one of purple, the added highlight of the new headband was (in Allister’s humble opinion) nothing short of genius. It was his work after all. It wasn’t an obvious change, but a subtlety that further signified their connection as both dual gym leaders, and as siblings.

“You look like you!”

“I feel like me. Now people won’t be as likely to question your position, and I don’t have to have my hair in my eyes all the time. Seriously though, how did you make this?”

“Lotsa help with the band itself, the merchants in town were super nice about finding material and even let me use the sewing machines!”

“You talked to the merchants? On your own?”

“Y-yeah,” he mumbled, looking away shyly. “Was scary.”

“And the purple tip?”

“Tie-dye.”

“…So that’s why the place suddenly smelled of chemicals and berries for a few days.”

“Aha, you noticed that…” Allister rubbed at the back of his neck for no reason other than want for something better to do; Bea pulled his fingers away again.

“Of course, but it was clearly for a good cause.” Bea pulled him close once more. “This is the best Christmas present I’ve had, no…the best Christmas I’ve had. Ever. Thank you.”

“Same to you, Bea. Best Christmas ever?”

“Best Christmas ever,” she affirmed. “Here’s to another year.”

“Yeah…sounds like a present I c’n get behind.”

“…”

“…Can we use your parent’s jumpers as tea cosies?” Allister said after another brief silence.

“…What?”

“You’re n-not gonna wear yours after today, and I haven’t worn mine at all. Could…make them useful? I dunno.”

“That’s a fine idea, Alli,” Bea murmured, reaching over and patting the boys head lightly. “A fine idea indeed.”

The year had been a tough one but they’d made it through. Not just in one piece, but stronger and better for it. Ups and downs, highs and lows, and all that in between. Bea finally understood what it really meant for her to be a sister and she was all the better for it. After today, she knew Allister was too.

What does that mean? To be a sister? Well, we’re allowed some secrets, aren’t we?